THE PIRATES OF SOMALIA
Director: Bryan Buckley
Screenwriter: Bryan Buckley, adapting Jay Badahur’s book “The Pirates of Somalia”
Cast: Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Sabrina Hassan Abdulle, Mohamed Barre, Mohamed Abdikadir, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/15/17
Opens: December 8, 2017
Never give up, the theme of so many optimistic movies, is the overriding concept in Bryan Buckley’s fictionalized biopic of best-selling author Jay Badahur. Badahur, who has no experience as a journalist and no major in the subject graduates from college in 2007, a time that America and Canada are undergoing the worst depression since the more famous one of the twenties and thirties. With the cojones of someone who realizes that the only way to get out of his parents’ basement is to do something that nobody else is willing to do, he opts to go to Somalia, do some interviews, and even get on board a German ship that is being held by pirates. What he discovers in that East African country, with which America had no diplomatic relations for twenty years, changes the course of history and propels the Canadian author’s study onto the New York Times best-seller list.
Naturally Jay’s parents, Kailash (Alok Tawari) and Maria (Melanie Griffith) think their boy has gone nuts and beg him to give up the fantasy. But after working a marketing job that has him interviewing supermarket personnel to discover the best shelf to situate napkins gives the lad enough motivation to cut out and do something worthwhile. When he meets the eccentric writer Seymour Tolbin (Al Pacino) and gets the advice that only the elderly in their wondrous wisdom can give, he is determined to make the trip, which will take him first to Frankfort and then to a bevy of connecting flights to the coastal town where a German ship is being held for ransom.
You’d think that the pirates, whom he interviews, will either kill him or hold him for ransom, but no: instead he learns that foreign imperialists destroyed a pirate group’s lobster fishing business, forcing them to go the illegal route, and further, these folks are considered Robin Hoods as they distribute their ransom wealth to the people. Somalia, Badahur wants the world to know, is a fledgling democracy where power changed hands without a shot’s being fired even though a minority person is chosen president by eighty votes.
To get information for his book, he befriends a number of people, some who speak surprisingly good English. His tour guide and translator, Abdi (Barkhad Abdi), whom cinephiles will quickly recognize from his role in “Captain Phillips” and “Eye in the Sky,” is on a buddy-buddy basis with the Canadian, and so are the local children who think he’s cool. Best of all, Maryan (Sabrina Hassan Abdulle), the wife of the leader of the pirates, speaks fluent English and presumably unlike other modestly dressed women has no trouble making eye contact with Badahur, even showing up in his room. (Could that possibly be true? The wife of a pirate?)
Badahur makes notes in a memo book, taping some interviews, and filming here and there while occasionally facing menacing people who train their machine guns on him until the translator gets him accepted by all. So, everyone in Somalia is friendly, the country is plagued by pirates only because foreign companies wiped out their sources of income, and Badahur returns to advice the U.S. government to pull its warships out of Somali waters. A fine job by Evan Peters, known here for a smaller role in Brian Singer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” while Oscar-nominated director Bryan Buckley, who probably made a lot more money filming some 50 Super Bowl commercials, chalks up a movie that is still under the radar after its December 8, 2017 opening.
Rated R. 117 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B