There isn´t many exciting stories right now amidst lockdown and winter season so, naturally, I increase my consumption of movies and books for review – another one shall be my first entry of this new year 2021. It´s a film made back in 2017 and truly a hidden gem. If it wasn´t for amazon prime´s “included in your prime”-offer, I probably wouldn´t have found it as “Pirates of Somalia” generally doesn´t make it on all these “Top Movie”-lists on the internet. This may be the case because it´s not a dedicated sailing- or “seabound” movie, but also, because it´s a very special movie to. First things first: I absolutely like the film and would recommend watching it.
Do not expect a sailing movie. In fact, there is just one single time a ship on the screen for merely a minute and this one will never be boarded – nevertheless, piracy at the Horn of Africa is a big topic. Big enough for having changed as well the whole sailing world: Yachtsmen are to avoid sailing Somali waters, literally, the whole region around Africa, the Horn, the Red Sea is off limits to recreational sailing these days, driven by the brutal wars ravaging these countries for decades now, piracy and the absolutely horrible situation in Yemen and the Middle East in general. So it´s indeed a topic that is of “sailing”-interest, of human interest a good deal more.
The story of “Pirates of Somalia”
The story is fairly simple (and based on a true one too). Jay Bahadur, Canadian citizen with Indian roots – his mom played by Melanie Griffith, desperately wants to be a journalist but is lost in doing meaningless jobs. After accidentally meeting one of his role model journalists – played by Al Pacino – endorses him to “go where it hurts” and “fuck Harvard!”. Skipping journalist school, taking all what is left of his sparse money, he decides to go to Somalia. At that time, no western journalist risked going to that country. Nobody knows anything firsthand about Somalia: Jay´s idea is to fill that gap, wrote a book about the pirates and have his entry to the world of journalism.
He arrives after making contact with a local radio station, which turns out to be run by the son of then president of Somalia. At his side, the translator and local guide Abdi, who arranges meetings and makes sure Jay is safe – surrounded by at least half a dozen militiamen with AK 47. Jay is a freshmen to journalism, has a very naïve approach, but is talented, open-minded and funny. He quickly learns the rules, but occasionally breaks out to achieve his goals. We, the audience, grow with jay, although sometimes just shake our heads, seeing him taking on more and more risks.
His positive attitude, the will to write about that country and the people, their struggle to survive, their strive toward becoming a normal society and – of course – the complex topic of piracy begin to have a profound impact on us as an audience. The character development of Jay – from a bold, a bit arrogant/naïve westerner to becoming a local insider, admirer of the rich culture of Puntland – is slow, the movie takes its time. Unagitated, sped up where it needed to, always with a smile, sometimes hilarious but always with great respect for the Somali culture we slowly dive deeper and deeper into “Dabka”, the stirring hot cooking land. “Pirates of Somalia” is first of all a very well crafted, superbly narrated, gripping film.
What I liked about the movie – and what not
Although some flashbacks, dreams and Khat-drug-induced hallucinations may be judged irritating at first, thinking about it later, I found it ingenious as a cinematic device to show Jay´s thoughts, fears and dreams. I like this different, fresh approach to making a movie. Besides, these sidekicks serve as comic relief which is desperately needed: There isn´t anything funny at all in Somalia. On the other hand, the portrayal of this war-torn country is absolutely stunning. All the guns, the militia, the underlying brutality and the still boiling conflict is like background noise: Always there, always lurking.
Jay Bahadur, played by actor Even Peters, becomes more and more lovable as the film goes by. At first I thought his performance is the weakest of the whole cast, but in the end I reckoned that his portrayal of real Jay was just spot on. Absolutely stunning, believable and gripping was the performance of Barkhad Abdi, the translator and guide, as well as all the other pirates and militiamen. In a sense I had the feeling that these guys not just plain play because it´s their profession but kind of re-enact what is the dark reality of their home countries. Best seen in the stunning performance of Sabrina Hassan aka Maryan, the Kath dealing wife of pirate boss Garaad. Stunning cast!
As the story is derived from the real events of real Jay Bahadur, the only thing I did not really like was the end. A bit hasty, a bit too sharp. Jay becomes a bestseller-author and a counsellor to Canadian and American intelligence services. He starts a project trying to help Somalia. All too fast, for my taste. But what remains is the impression of a superbly shot, well played and absolutely great movie – trying to explain a bit more intelligent or subtle than “Captain Phillips” did, what drives those Somalis to become pirates, diving deeper into the rich history and complex culture of Somalia and what is left of it, being a war-torn failed state, run by warlords and drug-cartels. An important movie, fun at times – stimulant to talk about and inspiring after the credits have rolled.
My overall assessment for “Pirates of Somalia” is 8 of 10 points
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