“Captain Phillips”: The most pro-Second Amendment movie I’ve ever seen

Captain-Phillips-poster-26Jul2013_02I finally got around to watching Captain Phillips. The move is ripped from headlines in 2009, when a Maersk captain got kidnapped by Somalia pirates, and was then rescued when Navy SEALS managed to kill the kidnappers in a sniper tour de force — perched on a rocking boat, the SEAL snipers took out three pirates who were standing within the confines of a closed — and also rocking — life boat. The movie didn’t do much for me as entertainment (more on that later), but I thought it was a splendid argument supporting the right to bear arms.

Since we’re all familiar with the actual kidnapping story, which we watched play out in real time, I’m not giving anything away when I say that the movie’s plot begins when four Somali pirates, traveling in a small, open skiff and armed with semi-automatic rifles and pistols, board a giant Maersk cargo ship. Their goal is to hold the ship’s crew hostage until Maersk’s insurance meets their ransom demand. Things go awry, though, when the ship’s crew fights back and manages to kidnap the leader of the pirate band. When the Maersk crew returns the pirate to his own crew, now ensconced in the Maersk’s fully enclosed life boat, the pirates successfully turn the tables, grab Captain Phillips, and take off.

The musical score indicated that the scenes in which the pirates stalk and eventually board the Maersk ship were meant to be gripping. Certainly, you could see the crew getting nervous. There they were, helpless, as these cruel predators stalked them. The only thing they could do was to turn on their ship’s water cannons in an effort to make boarding difficult. Here’s a nice picture showing the teeny skiff working its way up to the giant cargo ship with all its cannon going full force:

Water cannons in Captain Phillips

The image reminds of nothing so much as a feisty little mouse stalking a terrified, moribund, drooling elephant. Watching this scene, therefore, my dominant emotion wasn’t fear or anxiety, it was exasperated anger. If the Maersk had been armed with a few semi-automatic weapons or a mortar launcher or two, it could have blown that little skiff out of the water in an instant.

A small skiff would never have dared approach a boat it knew was armed. The only reason the pirates could act with such impunity was because they had the weapons and they knew that the only thing that the cargo ship could do was to spit at them.

At movie’s end, Phillips wasn’t rescued because of his ingenuity or courage (although the script works hard to give him both).  Instead, he was rescued because the U.S. Navy out-manned and out-gunned the rag-tag band of pirates.

To me, the movie’s overwhelming message was that, if the outlaws are the only ones with guns, you’re helpless. However, if the good guys also have guns, the outlaws are mincemeat. This is as true within a country as it is on international waters. The Maersk ship was a metaphor for every law-abiding American who is denied the right to bear arms, and who then finds himself staring into the barrel of a bad guy’s gun, aimed right at him.

Thankfully, the Captain Phillips incident helped some of the shipping companies see the light. Rather than viewing ransom payments as a cost of doing business, thereby incentivizing piracy, some of the companies now hire armed guards who can, presumably, knock off a pirate skiff even before it gets within range of water cannons. You won’t be surprised to learn that the pirates, who are now greeted with the business end of a gun rather than the promise of cash, have pretty much gone out of business.  Again, this is a perfect metaphor for the Second Amendment, which posits that there are more good guys in America than bad ones and, from that, extrapolates that, if the good guys are armed, the bad guys will retreat.

Aside from that powerful Second Amendment message (which I suspect was inadvertent), the movie left me pretty cold:

It failed as a suspense movie, because I already knew how it ended.

It failed as a hagiography of Captain Phillips, because I had already read months ago that the crew vehemently disputes Phillips’ heroic version of events. One could say that this is just sour grapes on the crews’ part, because they missed out on the money (and because the movie painted them as sniveling union cowards), but the facts bear out one important piece of information: given the prevalence of pirates in the region, ships were told to stay 600 miles off shore, well out of pirate range. Phillips kept his ship within 300 miles of shore, a fact even he concedes. If the crew is right about that incredibly salient point, it may well be right about all the other stuff.

It failed stylistically, because the director, Paul Greengrass, tried to shoot it as if it was a documentary happening in real time. This stylistic choice had two byproducts: First, it gave the movie that jerky, handheld quality you see when documentary filmmakers are running after a subject. I find this irritating. I tolerate it for real documentaries, but find it unnecessary and unpleasant in faux documentaries. Second, the actors weren’t acting, they were mimicking. You could see them sweat (and then inwardly congratulate themselves) as they tried to copy the speech and mannerisms of a real person. They therefore never fully inhabited their characters, leaving them one-dimensional. This made the movie lifeless.

It failed morally to the extent it seemed to say that the pirates were also innocent victims, more to be pitied than censured. Certainly, it’s true that Somalia is a country of abysmal poverty and disarray, made worse by its citizens’ addiction to khat. The pirates are shown chewing khat to get themselves excited for the hunt, and then becoming increasingly paranoid and desperate as their khat supply runs out. When one looks at the dreadful country, all of Somalia’s citizens are much to be pitied. Still, that’s not a license to engage in crime on a mass scale. Moreover, it was clear from the movie that the real malfeasors are the shipping and insurance companies that saw ransom as a cost of doing business, giving the Somalis a rational incentive to engage in piracy. As noted above, without this incentive, the Somali pirate trade pretty much ended.

And finally, the movie failed for a reason unique to me: I don’t like Tom Hanks. I’ve been dragged to see all of his movies over the years, and I’ve never like him. He runs the gamut from maudlin to overacting, a range that doesn’t just leave me cold, but leaves me with a vague, shuddering revulsion.

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    “The movie didn’t do much for me as entertainment (more on that later)”
    Then it’s cra.
    I’ve seen propaganda where you agree with the concepts, and you also feel positive reactions against the msg or emotion.
    If even you, someone who likes the concept of autonomy, wasn’t touched by this in entertainment mode… then it is C R A. There are higher thresholds and levels in the art of propaganda.
    “If the Maersk had been armed with a few semi-automatic weapons or a mortar launcher or two, it could have blown that little skiff out of the water in an instant.”
    I think it was Martel or Danny L that asked me, years ago, what I would do for pirates given a freight liner or hauler. I said I would put a heavy weapons platoon there, having them stationed in some kind of housing or barracks construction, and have them use RPGs or machineguns to line up enemies and blow them away. Coincidentally, pirating in Somalia fell off in recent years due to private companies hiring security guards on their ships. Armed with… something. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.
    “It failed as a suspense movie, because I already knew how it ended.”
    It’s pure CRA. It failed because of that. Mostly because the idea that anyone needs to be saved by the US military, is a flip on the absolute obedience given to Hussein in Ft. HOod. Ft. Hood 1/2. The US military aren’t made of individuals doing whatever the hell they want, no matter society or authoritarian gods like Hussen tell them. The US military is a tool, to protect the people of America. In that sense, they fulfill the place of police, they aren’t here to rescue you so much as avenge you.
    The idea that self autonomous individuals exist and that society must restart from the bottom up, isn’t there. So it doesn’t fulfill the emotional requirements. Thus it is CRA, even if people want to agree with the concepts.
    I sympathize with you, Book, but if you aren’t even allowed to watch Firefly… I don’t know what to say. If you can’t watch what you want and fill your heart with anti Leftist resistance power, how will anyone else in your household do it?

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Btw, if someone tried to “drag” me to a movie I didn’t want to watch or pay for… you can probably imagine what would happen.
    If they want to be indoctrinated, I got plenty of “stuff” that does indoctrination, My Way.

  • http://www.marchhareshouse.blogspot.com March Hare

    Working in and with the maritime community, the idea of having armed personnel on vessels was (and still is) a widely discussed issue, pro and con, along with the proper role and obligation of the navies of the U.S. and other Western countries to keep international shipping lanes open.  Maersk now has armed guards on board their vessels, especially since the Alabama was attacked again, in November 2009.  This time the armed guards successfully repelled the pirates.
    Piracy off the eastern coast of Africa is not new.  The Straits of Malacca, between Malaysia and Sumatra (Indonesia) is another dangerous area.  It was the bravery and skill of the U.S. Navy Seals that made Captain Phillips a noteworthy story.  The lifeboat, complete with bullet holes, is on display at a Navy museum in Florida.
    As for the movie itself, the reviews I’ve read in the maritime press were universally positive.  The movie captures what life on a modern container ship is like, including the pressure on the captain to bring the vessel in on schedule (which, I believe, is the reason he was 300 miles in).  I haven’t seen it yet and, while I don’t agree with Mr. Hanks political views, I enjoy his acting.  

  • Seanroconnor

    I agree with your comment about already knowing the ending of the movie…part of the reason why I never really cared for Titanic – I already know the boat rams into the iceberg!
    The movie glossed over the fact that the SEALs specifically asked for the length of the tow line to match the range that they trained at…essentially setting themselves up for maximum chances for success.
    As I have said before…as a professional Naval Officer killing pirates is the moral equivalent of eating zero calorie desserts!!  You get to kill all of them and have no downsides to killing scum of the earth.  Pirates have been beyond the pale for thousands and thousands of years with the commonly acceptable method of dealing with them being to kill them as quickly as possible.
    Question with regard to the slavers that have kidnapped the Nigerian girls recently – do grunts get the same thrill for killing slavers that professional Naval Officers do for killing pirates??
    The answer for pirates is very simple – KILL them.

  • lee

    I was watching a British show, “Whitechapel.” In the first season, the start gets reamed for “letting the murderer get away.” All I could think was, “If they let most cops carry guns, he couldn’t nailed the b*****d.”

  • Mike Devx

    A pirate on the streets of America who targets defenseless people is known by a different name: mugger.
    We don’t have much sympathy for muggers.  I see no reason to extend empathy to water-borne Somali muggers.
    To continue the analogy, sailing defenseless in pirate-infested waters seems rather like taking a stroll defenseless through the worst neighborhood of your city on a Saturday night at 1 am.  Foolish and insane are two adjectives that come to mind.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The sea is a great way to dispose of unwanted bodies, without anyone knowing. At least, that’s what the mafia people tell me.