CAPSULE: This film is one of several of 2017 based on true stories. Jay Bahadur, a determined if somewhat unready writer from Toronto, decides that his path to fame and permanent employment is to travel to Somalia and write a book about the pirates who are in the news for hijacking passing cargo ships. This film covers his exploits getting to Somalia and mixing in affairs that he only incompletely understands. The film starts as a comedy, but the humor runs out as Bahadur comes to understand how serious his position is, and he learns to be responsible. The film was written and directed by Bryan Buckley, adapted from the book by Bahadur. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Most people from the United States probably could not find Somalia on a world map. Over the last few decades the world has become aware of the massive problems of Somalis, in particular those who turn to maritime piracy. They hijack cargo ships in the African waters and the Indian Ocean. Somali pirates seize cargo ships and hold the hostage for ransoms in the millions of dollars.
There have been at least two major films on this issue. Tom Hanks starred in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and there was an excellent Danish film, A HIJACKING. THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA is not as informative perhaps, with good but unsuccessful intentions telling the story of Jay Bahadur (played by Evan Peters), an aspiring journalist who had a special interest in Somalia after he wrote a term paper on the country for a high school class. Ignoring the danger, he travels to Somalia to see if he can find pirates.
Once he gets to know the Somalis he wants to write about them to tell the world what he has learned. But the emphasis is less about the country and more about Bahadur and the problems he faces--a fish out of water--than about any pirates. His greatest revelation is that other countries have over-fished Somalia's fishing waters. For the Somalis it is an issue of going hungry or finding another source of income. Those very valuable cargo ships on the water near home is a big temptation for them.
Al Pacino plays Seymour Tolbin, considered a great journalist made famous by his Vietnam coverage, who is sort of inspiration and muse for Bahadur. For his role Pacino slurs his speech talking through rough beard. He is not based on a real person and is a waste of valuable narrative time. There is one other familiar actor, Melanie Griffith plays Bahadur's mother at least a little better.
Scenes like a pirate attack on a boat are done in animation--a reasonable way to save on budget. The film does feature some well- shot desert photography. Otherwise the country looks uninviting and that too we see.
The worst problem of the film is there is much less about the pirates themselves as there is about how Bahadur found his way to them. Rather than a news correspondent story sort of film this film can more be compared with a film like LOCAL HERO with its gentle look at the ensemble of background characters. Even the pirates themselves indentify themselves as Robin Hood pirates, supposedly sharing their proceeds with the poor. Just as Laurel and Hardy accentuated each other by their opposite statures--one tall and thin, the other short and squat--Bahadur and his guide Abdi (Barkhad Abdi) have very different faces accentuating the humor between them. Bahadur (Evan Peters, really) has a very circular face. Barkhad Abdi has a narrow, triangular face. (Abdi was also in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS as the lead pirate.)
Writer-director Buckley seems to think that his viewer wants to know more about Bahadur than about Somali pirates. At least he can make that funnier. I rate THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. This film had a limited release in the US on December 8. A wider release is probably coming.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5126922/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_pirates_of_somalia_2017
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2018 Mark R. Leeper