Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On Captain Phillips

I don't plan to write about every film I see. However, I just finished watching Captain Phillips, and I feel mostly awful about it.

The point of the filmmaking is to make you sympathetic to Rich Phillips, the US Navy and by proxy US work attitudes and US foreign policy. We spend the film contrasting Phillips' ship carrying food and water to give to Somalia against the Somali pirates taking money from Americans and insurance companies. We contrast the level-headed calm of the US Navy and Phillips' own crew with the hot-headed infighting of the pirates. Yet we open up the film with Rich Phillips talking about the lack of accessibility of jobs for his son which is the exact problem the Somalis face.

Are we really supposed to view this as a win for the US Navy and the SEALS which used a destroyer, a frigate, and an assault ship for a total displacement of over 54,000 tons against the Somalis' lone life boat? Might may not always make right, but you're certainly going to have the outcome go your way more often than not when you have that sort of disparity in your favor. Are we supposed to be happy that the insurance companies didn't have to make a ten million dollar payout, and instead the taxpayers got to fund the Battle of Three Warships vs a Lifeboat
Phillips: There's got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.
Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.
I'm glad Phillips got saved and got to go home to his family, but in vilifying the Somalis as pirates we're assuming they have a lot of the same opportunities that we have. Are we supposed to believe that America hasn't operated under the same ethos of "take that which others didn't protect well enough"? Is that not how we ultimately got every acre of the United States? Are we supposed to believe that the Somalis' concept of taking from the rich corporations without hurting human life and giving to the impoverished isn't an expected consequence of opportunity, national policies, and corporate policies? I'm not going to try to legitimize piracy, but the film does just enough to open up a can of sympathy for Muse without either dumping it out or sealing it back up.

In closing the film we see that Captain Phillips returned to work 15 months and 8 days after being reunited with his family (9 days after the initial Somali boarding) without any reference given to the intervening time to make for the quickest and dirtiest epilogue possible. What are we supposed to think of the company pressure to return to work? Was Phillips personally driven, or did he see not his son on the wrong side of these statements, but rather himself?
The competition out there... When I was starting out you could make captain if you put your head down and did your work. But young guys coming up now... Companies want things faster and cheaper. And 50 guys compete for every job. Everything's different, and big wheels are turning. You gotta be strong to survive out there.
In the end, I saw a movie lauding the US Navy for spending a lot of taxpayer money to protect corporate interests that along with Captain Phillips carry alleged negligence in the event, Americans trying to fix countries whose citizens are uninterested, national policy uninterested in the humanity of other nations, Somalis taking the only actions they feel are available to them, a vastly superior military force overwhelming four guys with AK-47s, and corporate policy interested in getting ships from A to B as quickly and cheaply as possible and possibly employees from hostage back to captain as quickly and cheaply as possible.

For all the problems that would be entailed in a film turning the Somalis into heros for almost making the big score against big bad America and corporate insurance, I feel like the actual film might carry more in lauding a host a problematic policies.

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