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‘Captain Phillips’

‘Somali Pirate’ Is A Losing Script

People like this film a lot. You just need to see the Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this film and you realise quite a number of people like this film like it’s some breakthrough film. It’s also one of those movies where once again it’s “A True Story Loosely Based On Fact” so everything you see is a little suspect.

You can run all kinds of simulations and role-plays, I tend to think Somali Pirate is just one of those starting hands that’s got very limited upside. Beating upon them in a Hollywood movie seems more cruel than fair game.

What’s Good About It

Lots of Hollywood-special tense moments. The character build for the Somali pirates is short-handed but good. They don’t waste too much time explaining Richard Phillips. He’s a ship captain, he goes to sea, misses his family when he’s out to sea; all this gets told in under 5minutes screentime and really, that’s all we want to know or need to know before the action begins.

What’s Bad About It

I think Paul Greengrass and his wobbly telephoto look is a terrible choice in this film. For a film that’s already set at sea, the wobbly cam only ads to the sea-sickness-making horror of drifting horizons. I felt ill 20minutes in and it got worse and worse. Worse still, the action sequences were so chopped up they were practically indecipherable as action. You see a flurry of motion but you don’t know what the hell is going on. It’s like his other work, but … worse.

What’s Interesting About It

Somali pirates on the big screen actually is a big draw card. You know me. I’m sick of Russians mafia in Black four wheel drives with machine guns and bad accents.But then one of the first bits of action in the Somali side is a convoy of Nissan 4wheel drives arriving with men touting AK-47s, demanding the fishermen go out and do more piracy. The more things change in Hollywood you realise the more it’s just the wardrobe department working its budget.

Still, it’s interesting to see Somalis on the Hollywood big screen. Of course, this being a Hollywood movie, they really don’t get a good airing, but at least you get a picture of Hollywood trying to do something more representative of the world in which we live.

The race politics is pretty transparent. The film only lets you sympathise with the Somali pirate leader only to a certain extent and there is his right hand man who spends most of the movie angry and hostile, who basically reduces the group to a caricature as damning as the four Muslims in ‘Four Lions’.  You’re watchingit knowing full well that they’re not going to make it, and then the Navy SEALs turn up an of course this being a Hollywood movie, those guys are invincible, so you don’t get the ending telegraphed to so much as given a big billboard on Sunset Boulevard with smiling Navy SEALs brandishing their sniper rifles. Okay, so that bit is not all that interesting.

The denouement is short, and you’re mercifully spared the family reunion scene.

Does Anybody Remember…

… the last democratically elected Somali government head? No? Didn’t think so, because I can’t either.I was freshly minted a graduate out of AFTRS when the first signs of collapse in Somalia took place, and it was Bill Clinton’s first military action as POTUS where he sent troops overseas. I – blithely in my youthful stupidity – tried to hook on with a camera and get out to Somalia for a look so i could make some interesting docos. Fortunately for me, I utterly failed to find any backers here in Australia or over in Japan. I say fortunate because the way Mogadishu turned out, turned into ‘Blackhawk Down’. Somehow I don’t think I would’ve survived that chaotic mess.

In my own defence, I had read “Into a Black Sun’ by Takeshi Kaikoh which filled me with the delusion that I should poke my head into a hot zone with a camera. Somalia, like the Balkan wars that followed, made a point of shooting at camera people and journalists. It’s hard to put this down to any particular reason, but basically the 1990s showed just how bad your cause could look to the world through media, and so it became worthwhile for people in civil wars to silence the press and documentarists by shooting at them.

All that said, I was desperately, then tepidly, then vaguely interested in Somalia for the rest of the decade, probably right up until 9/11 changed everything. The reason I bring all of this up is because I have to confess I haven’t seen any signs of Somalia returning to a functioning state, and the one intervention from the outside resulted in a mess. It’s not that surprising piracy has surfaced as a means for survival with the coastal population. What’s probably more shocking is that there is a whole generation of Somalis who grew up under this chaos and warlord-ism, who know nothing of functioning democracy or even a proper state or that matter. You wonder how they’re ever going to find their way back.

Not Post-Apocalypse, But Post Civilisation

What freaked out Tony Blair in his day as a PM was when he asked how long food supplies could hold out in the UK if all shipping were stopped. The answer he got was 72hours, and then riots would break out. Our modern civilisation is complicated and intertwined with the world, it would only take 72hours for the edifice to find itself in grave danger. Somalia as it exists today appears to be what is left after the state crumbles, and so shipments cease to arrive to a nation. The Hobbsean nasty brutish and short is what is mostly left there from what we can gather.

The general point being, there but for the grace of something larger go us. It’s totally hubris on our part to think that we won’t fall to such chaos. If you read about the English Civil War for instance, you come to realise that the people of England did not anticipate the war breaking out in the way that it did let alone the depredations that came about as a result of the civil war.

In that sense, Somalia is leading the way in some kind of weird experiment of civilisation collapse. Like a canary in the coal mine, if you will, Somalia illuminates the way in which a modern nation state can unravel into this strange warlord-ism. What’s frightening is that maybe that kind of existence awaits us somewhere in the future when our governments lose credibility and things simply fall apart. That’s the truly frightening vision. In that event, we’ll all be Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips, except not as well paid for our ordeals.

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