The New York Film Festival must have a thing for danger on the high seas. Last year's opening night featured the fantasy ocean crossing Life of Pi: a boy on a raft with a tiger. This year: it's the real life adventure of the Maersk Alabama with Captain Richard Phillips at the helm, invaded by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Tom Hanks stars as Captain Phillips in this gripping tale, co-starring with a bunch of lean Somalian actors who hail from Minnesota. Hanks, as always, his excellent Everyman, albeit no nonsense leader, registers fear in just the movement of an eye. And those pirates: You will not see a more menacing looking cast in any movie this year.
As this is a Paul Greengrass movie, some politics are at play. In the set up, contrasting Phillips' journey from rural Vermont to the airport, making mundane conversation with his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener), to the desert where bands of young men line up, eager to kidnap and kill if need be, to satisfy greedy overlords. The act of piracy is viewed, perhaps, as a sociological event. "This is business," says "Skinny," (check out Barkhad Abdi's razor sharp cheekbones) taking charge of the cargo ship.
On our way to Friday’s opening night after party at the Harvard Club, we shared a cab with Shane Murphy who is played by Michael Chernus in the movie. Having been there in those five days of terror, this real life crewman said:
“My biggest concern was that the pirates would be portrayed as entirely evil and that this movie would be portrayed as a black vs. white story with racial overtones. The whole point about going to sea is that it is a great equalizer. Race has nothing to do with the story. There were black white, Muslim, Arab, Latino shipmates on the Alabama and the pirates’ motives are financial not race related. My concern was that the movie would vilify them and create more racial tension. I was happy with the outcome because the movie would be just as good if the whole cast had blue skin. The story came through in the end.”
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.