Captain Phillips stars Tom Hanks at the helm of a high-value American container ship held to ransom in 2009 by a handful of Somali pirates. Paul Greengrass (Bourne, United 93) presents us with a film in which many exciting things happen on an actual working ship out in open water – and yet the movie is uncompelling. Greengrass works hard to make the true story believable, down to the rather tedious relay of very technical messages between various stern officials and the Navy SEALs primed to save the day.
But the film never quite has the ring of truth. You continually suspect that Greengrass has used the facts as much as they help and then departed from them. (Why, for example, does the chief Somali pirate speak such good English? If he indeed did, then tell us why.) Cinema has always happily treated history as a mere prop room – but movies that come on very loudly like the truth yet are not resolutely truthful (Zero Dark Thirty, Argo) feel particularly disappointing and corrupt.