4 Intriguing “International Crime” Films

Captain Phillips PosterI. Piracy 

Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention… committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or aircraft and directed…on the high seas against another ship or aircraft…”. In 2017, there were 117 piracy incidents recorded (Statista statistics); and, in 2016, 191 similar incidents were reported (ICC statistics); in 2010, Somali pirates took hostage 49 ships with over 1.000 people on board (International Maritime Bureau information).

Captain Phillips (2013) – ★★★★

The film showcases just this instance of a rising cross-border illegal activity, and tells of an incredible true story of the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking (see also a Danish counterpart A Hijacking (2012)). Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) was in charge of one ship destined for Mombasa, Kenya from Oman. Captain Phillips and his crew had to handle four Somali pirates who boarded their ship. Captain Phillips has plenty of nicely-executed, tense scenes, and Hanks gives a magnificent performance in the lead role, even though Barkhad Abdi was the only actor nominated for an Academy Award. In the film, it is easy to empathise with the Captain Phillips’s situation and admire his and his crew members’ actions. Perhaps, the film is a little too straightforward for the lovers of intrigue and nuance, but Hanks always plays sympathetic characters excellently, and the film largely holds on the fascinating situation involving the lead character’s commitment to preserve the lives of his crew members as he tries to reason with irrational demands of the invaders.

Closed Circuit PosterII. Terrorism

The NATO definition of terrorism is “the unlawful use…of force or violence against individuals/property in an attempt to coerce or intimidate governments/societies to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives” (AAP-06 NATO Glossary of Terms). Former Judge Antonio Cassese once held that there must be present some criminal act with a transnational element, as well as the intent by actors to spread fear among the population.

 Closed Circuit (2013) – ★★1/2

Closed Circuit is a film which tries to engage with just this situation with uncertain results. In the film, two ex-lovers meet on the defence team in the prosecution of Farroukh Erdogan for a terrorist bombing of the Borough Market in London, which killed 120 people. The drama is that the complexity and the secrecy surrounding the case, as well as the emotional ties of the two defence lawyers, can derail one of the most important criminal cases in the UK.

Rebecca Hall (Christine (2016)) gives a convincing enough performance as Special Advocate Claudia Simmons-Howe, and, with his good looks and screen presence, Eric Bana is also not bad as a defence lawyer. Meanwhile, Riz Ahmed (Una (2016)) plays a sneaky role of a secret service agent, while it is always great to see Ciaran Hinds (Silence (2016)) in any role (here, he plays Devlin). However, unfortunately, decent performances and a glimpse into the workings of the British legal system are the only good things about Closed CircuitHall and Bana’s chemistry is good enough; the London locations are appealing; and the film execution is sleek, but it becomes hard to follow the intricate legal issues of the film, and the film becomes very underwhelming in its second half. It should have been cleverer and clearer, but it is not. Even though there is no satisfying personal, legal or political resolution in the film, the film may still be enjoyed by those who are into political thrillers, though they should probably not expect anything brilliant. 

You Were Never Really Hear PosterIII. Sex trafficking

According to the recent report by the United Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the most common type of human trafficking remains sexual exploitation, and it is also estimated by the Equality Now organisation that around 20.9 billion adults and children are trafficked annually worldwide for the purposes of either sexual slavery or forced labour, with at least 2 million children being exploited worldwide for commercial sex trade.

You Were Never Really Here (2018) – ★★★★

This film does not deal with the issue of sexual trafficking too directly, but the main character’s job in the film is closely linked to the issue. In this book-to-film adaptation, Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a man who “rescues” girls who have gone missing for a pay, and his task in the film is to find one girl in particular – Nina. The director of We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) knows how to best present a difficult topic, and the personality of Joe echoes those found in such films as Leon (1994) and Drive (2011). Part of the reason why these films were so successful is that the personality of the hero there is so fascinating as he balances between evil and good, extreme empathy and outrageous violence. Thus, nearly the whole merit of the film rests on the fascinating character study as we try to reconcile Joe’s violent side (as well as his body covered in scars) with his more compassionate and benevolent side as Joe cares for his aging mother, while also combatting his own traumatic memories.

Lynne Ramsay’s direction is curious and admirable, and there are many close-up shots of innocuous nature that hint at both realism and a deeper meaning. Given this, the soundtrack and the impressive sound design, the result is a powerful portrayal of a fusion between innocence and maturity, violence and kindness, reality and surrealism. The film will undoubtedly be too gruesome or inexplicable for some, but it is also a visionary and brave work, with Phoenix contributing greatly to the picture’s compelling force. 

Maria Full of Grace PosterIV. Drug trafficking

The UNODC defines drug trafficking as a “global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws”. Colombia has been a major source of cocaine, and a new UN Report finds that, in 2016, Colombia produced a staggering figure of 866 tons of cocaine. 

Maria Full of Grace (2004) – ★★★★1/2

Maria Full of Grace (2004) is one of those underseen films that are simply great, but that remain strangely hidden (see also my list of 10 Films Dealing with Drugs.) In Maria Full of Grace, Joshua Marston (Complete Unknown (2016)) presents a harrowing and detailed account of a poor girl from Colombia, Maria, becoming a drug mule to earn some money for herself and her family. Maria loses her day job in a flower plantation, and being pregnant with no prospects, decides to embark on a dangerous journey to the US as a drug mule by swallowing capsules containing illicit drugs. 

This Spanish-language film claims that the story is actually based on the collection of other 1.000 stories of similar nature, and the lead actress in the film, Catalina Sandino Moreno, was even (quite rightly) nominated for an Academy Award. Her character’s journey is interesting in the film, even though it also means that the viewing is far from easy. The audience may begin to sympathise with Maria in the story so much it is impossible not to see this film with one breath being tightly held, hoping for a better future for Maria. Maria Full of Grace is interesting, brave and important.


14 Comments Add yours

  1. If you like International crime stories you should watch MHz TV. It’s really great with all sorts of crime shows from Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Dutch, etc. Thanks for the reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thanks, I will check it out.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. raistlin0903 says:

    Great list of films and definitely quite a few that are on my list but which I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet. Captain Philips was awesome, and I still think it’s a disgrace that Tom Hanks did not get a nomination for that role.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thanks, and exactly. Tom Hanks was at least as good as Barkhad Abdi, who was nominated. It is like it was all this time with Leonardo DiCaprio until 2016. People see these performances and comment that this or that actor was again merely “playing himself”. Very unfair.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. raistlin0903 says:

        In my opinion Tom Hanks has always been a very underrated actor. But I guess he isn’t the only one unfortunately. Hopefully one day he will get the credits he deserves 😊


        1. dbmoviesblog says:

          Yes, people take for granted these actors. They see this man who is perfect portraying ordinary American Joes, and assume they already know all there is to him. It is also harder to be truly appreciated for work for some who had past links to “light” films or comedy.
          I am now looking at his forthcoming film-remake “A Man Called Ove”. Despite the fact that it is a remake of a well-received movie, I have my hopes.


  3. Maria Full of Grace is a Fine film. I would very much like to see Joaquin’s performance. It sounds fascinating and he never disappoints on the screen. Great post, as usual!


    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thanks! This was a completely raw, self-giving performance by Phoenix. He did win an Award at the Cannes for the role, but, if it were up to me, I would have given him any other Actor Award existing for this performance.


      1. High praise, indeed.


  4. Lloyd Marken says:

    Great post, I am looking forward to You Were Never Really Here but you have also reminded me its high time to see Maria, Full of Grace.


    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      I hope you like the two films, and, of course, the lead actors of both did an amazing job.

      Liked by 1 person

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