We know what to do with heroes in America. Because our culture is so very good at repackaging real-life sagas to fit our infinite screens, the media rewards of a little guy who does something big are understood. There will be talk show appearances. There will be a best-selling book. And there will be a big-screen version of your ordeal in which you will be played by a famous Hollywood star.
All of which is to say that “Captain Phillips,” an extraordinarily gripping movie based on events that took place on the container ship Maersk Alabama in April 2009, both sticks to the accepted playbook and subtly departs from it. Here is the famous star, Tom Hanks — America’s best buddy, for Pete’s sakes — playing ship captain Richard Phillips with a natty beard, a minimum of ego, and a New England accent that stays just this side of tragic. Here is the ship’s crew, quailing in the depths of the hold; here are the four Somali pirates, wraiths with automatic weapons. And here, steaming up on the horizon, is the full might of American response: flat-top destroyers, billions of dollars of most excellent military technology, and Navy SEAL snipers who can shoot the eye out of a nickel at half a mile.