captain phillips muse

Jacob Hall: Muse in Captain Phillips

The movies generally make piracy look like an awful lot of fun. You get to the sail the ocean and have swashbuckling adventures, hoarding gold and getting in sword fights and generally having a grand ‘ol time. Through a Hollywood lens, being a pirate is a romantic adventure and not a career choice made by desperate men struggling to survive in a world that has chewed them up and spit them out. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips, set in 2009, strips the romanticism out of a pirate’s life by necessity. The group of men who seize control of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama aren’t sashaying heroes who conduct themselves like rockstars on the high seas – they’re criminals who have been pushed to the edge, people who are out of options and have resorted to desperate measures. They’re a frightening bunch, but they’re also tragic. Pathetic, even.

At the forefront of the hijackers is Barkhad Abdi’s Muse. Malnourished and dead-eyed, Muse is acting under the orders of men who plan to ransom the crew for millions of dollars. It’s not a matter of him wanting to be here – he must be here. There are no other options. This is it. Abdi wasn’t an actor when he was cast and Greengrass makes expert use of this. There’s a reality to his performance, an authenticity that you won’t find with a recognizable face. Muse is never presented in a truly sympathetic light and the film never apologies for his decisions, but Greengrass and Abdi refuse to ignore his humanity. You watch him and you ache for an alternate reality where it didn’t come to this. 

And for the record, not a day goes by where I don’t tell somebody to “Look at me” before informing that that “I’m the captain now.”

Peter Sciretta: One-Eyed Willy in The Goonies

I didn’t watch many pirate movies as a kid (or even an adult, although the television series Black Sails on Starz is great for anyone who is looking for something substantial to watch from this genre), but The Goonies has remained one of my favorite films and it looms large here. Sure, we never get to see One-Eyed Willy in action on the big screen, but he represents a promise, an swashbuckling adventure filled with fun, but also dangerous booty traps. I’m still not even convinced that the skeleton we find aboard the pirate ship at the end of the film is that of the famous pirate, nor do I think this was his fully booty. One-Eyed Willy was too smart for the men after his gold in too many ways to find himself dead in this situation. I think this is yet another set-up to send treasure hunters off Willy’s trail. Of course, the movie presents no evidence to support this and with no sequel in sight, it’s just my crackpot theory. Although maybe, someday, it could be in the cards, eh?

Christopher Stipp: Time Bandits

I don’t know how else I could have accidentally started my film education so wonderfully.

For those of you who remember the halcyon days of television when all you had to choose from was your basic networks and the rise of cable, it was a truly glorious thing to cherish the movies you could watch on HBO. One of my first movies I was exposed to before I turned 10 was Time Bandits. A truly inspired tale by Terry Gilliam, even then it was conceived as part of a “trilogy of imagination” alongside his other movies, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. This was a movie that felt accessible and fantastical in equal measure.

The protagonist at the center of this tale is a young boy caught up in an insane plot that spans time, space, and reality alongside a marauding pack of six little people, pirates really, who have stolen a map from “the Supreme Being” in the hopes of discovering riches to plunder across various times and dimensions. I cannot begin to describe how third eye-bending this movie was to a young person (and to adults! Gilliam has made a children’s movie that doesn’t talk down to his audience pushes them artistically. It was, and is, an enduring ode to the kinds of adventures we would all have  liked to have gone on as a kid.

Pirates 5 Reviews

What do you think of our picks? Who is your favorite movie and TV pirate? Talk about it in the comments below or email your personal answer (a paragraph or more) to with the subject title “Favorite Movie or TV Pirate.” Our favorite responses will be featured on the site in a future post!

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