Stolen Seas | Movie review
An inside portrait of Somali piracy seems better suited to cable TV.
Exemplary journalism but rote filmmaking, Stolen Seas explores Somali piracy via Ishmael Ali, the translator and negotiator for a band of brigands who hijacked a Danish merchant vessel, the CEC Future, in 2008. The prolonged hostage situation and negotiations serve as a framing device, with audio of the actual negotiations laid over rather cheesy re-enactments.
Ali’s on-camera presence, explaining piracy’s appeal to a nation without a unified civil government since 1991, is the film’s insider coup. Veteran documentary screenwriter Mark Monroe (The Cove, The Tillman Story) and director Thymaya Payne have cobbled together a serviceable primer, full of talking heads with smart things to say about the causes of Somali piracy. It’s a sophisticated argument from a firmly liberal-left viewpoint (Noam Chomsky, of course, drops in). During its 90-minute running time, Stolen Seas argues, among other things, that the American government uses piracy as an excuse to trot out pricey battleships and that wealthy shipping companies should stop hiding behind nation-states.
In Ali, Stolen Seas has a fascinating if underused focal point; a former American citizen, he has much to say about piracy’s macho allure in an underdeveloped country. But the original footage is otherwise undistinguished, looking very much like an A&E miniseries, full of gauzy, “you are there” shots of nothing in particular.