On the way to the airport to fly to the cargo ship he will captain, Rich Phillips talks to his wife about how everything is changing. He worries about his kids making a living amidst so much competition. As we can all pick up, he is also worried about his own ability to keep up. He's now middle aged.
In his native village we meet the Skinny one. He is testy and feels the compulsion to assert himself. That's how he becomes the leader of the pirate venture. He is bullied into it by the warlords.
When captured Phillips is shrewd enough to appeal to Skinny's humanity. For example, he assures him that he is more than just a fisherman. When the U.S. government arrests Skinny, we can't help but feel compassion.
We wonder if, after Phillips recovers, he will also feel compassion for Skinny. In a sense, there were no bad guys on that ship. The bad guys were back in Skinny's village and in the White House where image trumped a human life.