Breach Director Billy Ray Tackles Somali Pirates

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The movie of the week business used to be the province of television and cable, but with these tougher economic times, big studios are getting into the game, too. Or trying to. Earlier this year Columbia bought the rights to the story of Richard Phillips, the captain held hostage by Somali Pirates this past May before being rescued by Navy Seals. Now the film finally has a writer.

The good thing is, the writer is Billy Ray, and if there’s anyone who can make this thing work as something more substantive than a movie of the week that’s 18 months too late, it might be him. Shattered Glass was great, and Breach was even better. OK, some of his writing gigs haven’t panned out perfectly — how about Flightplan and to a lesser extent State of Play — but it’s difficult to say that the work he’s credited for is what ended up problematic onscreen, so I’ll take his two directing gigs as better evidence of talent.

Columbia has the rights to both the general story of Phillips’ experience with the pirates this past may, and specifically to his memoir A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Five Dangerous Days, which Variety says will be published in April. Without having read the book I can’t predict where Ray’s script will go, but there’s a much larger context to tell in this story that would help push it out of pure topical territory. Specifically, many of the Somali pirates have said they were pushed into piracy by illegal foreign fishing off Somali coasts, which depleted their legitimate means of income. That’s hardly a justification for many of the actions taken, but it is a part of the larger context. If you’re going to tell the story of Phillips and the hijacking you don’t have to tell the Somali story as well, but doing so would probably make for a more interesting film.

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