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Mr. Abdi, a Somalian making his acting debut in the film as the chillingly fearless Muse, brings a hard-won alternate perspective to the pirates’ plight.

“I was born in Somalia,” said the young actor. “By the time I was 6, war had begun. And there was killing, there was guns everywhere. At night we would sleep to the sounds of guns — my brother and me would name the guns based on the sound of it.

“There are a lot of kids that don’t have no school. Don’t know what’s going on. Don’t have nothing. No job. No hope. Nothing. For that, I understand and feel compassion.”

But compassion does not translate into justification, said Mr. Abdi. “What’s this [hijacking] to him? It is the chance of a lifetime. You know? It’s a crime, I understand that,” he said, raising his hands as if to head off argument. “I’m not excusing him. Me, personally, I believe there’s other ways he could have got by.”

The film itself suggests that is not necessarily the case. Globalization is blamed for overfishing of the waters off of Somalia’s coast. This in turn has impoverished the men who once made their livings off of those waters, leaving them a choice between starvation and piracy.

The life of a Somali pirate sketched out by Mr. Greengrass and his actors is hardly pleasant. Warlords effectively run the nation, sending malnourished young men out in rickety skiffs to attack massive container ships. Whatever money they earn is sent back to the men in charge.

“Just examining the grander structure of piracy with these criminal bosses that come into it — that’s almost recognizable as our own organized crime,” said Mr. Hanks. “We get that.”

As with films about the mafia, the audience is encouraged to understand, but not condone, the behavior of the Somali pirates in “Captain Phillips.”

“I just had to show people emotionally what it meant to him to get there,” Mr. Abdi says of Muse.

For the director, showing people those emotions while relaying the essence of what occurred is the goal of every decent filmmaker.

“When you can balance regard for the facts and a desire to be truthful about the experience, you get the truths of cinema,” said Mr. Greengrass. “They are different from journalism, but they are profound nonetheless.”