The True Tale of Captain Phillips

We break down what's fact — and fiction — in the high-seas drama starring Tom Hanks

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Columbia Pictures

The true tale of Richard Phillips, the captain of a cargo ship taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009, is so thrilling that screenwriters hardly needed to add any extra drama. Tom Hanks’ Phillips employs almost all the same strategies the real-life captain did to save his crew and himself from the armed pirates.

Here’s what’s true-to-life — and what’s manufactured by Hollywood — according to Phillips’ memoir, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea.

[ Warning: Spoilers ahead. ]

The pirates arrived while the crew of the Maersk Alabama was in middle of an emergency drill

Ruling: Fact

Captain Phillips, who had a reputation as a no-nonsense captain, ran several emergency drills on the Alabama during the voyage, including one that the pirates interrupted, as depicted in the film

Captain Phillips faked a call to the Navy to deter the pirate ships

Ruling: Fact

When Phillips spotted the pirate boats coming his way, he got on his radio and faked a call to a U.S. Navy warship, dropping his accent to play the voice of the Navy responder, so that the pirates might overhear the exchange on their radios and think that assistance was on the way. In the movie, the mothership and two speed boats are pursuing the Alabama at that time, and the mothership and one of the speedboats turn back. In reality, the Alabama had one more speedboat in addition to those other boats in pursuit. In both cases, Phillips’ trick scared all the ships off but one.

Phillips and his crew tricked one of the pirates by laying broken glass on the ground 

Ruling: Fiction

In the film, the Alabama crew craftily lays broken glass on the ground for one of the pirates (who is barefoot) to step on when he enters the engine room where they are hiding. The injury forces the pirate with the bloody foot and Captain Phillips to turn back, allowing the rest of the crew to overtake the other pirate with a knife and hold him hostage. In reality, Phillips didn’t lead the pirates to his crew’s hiding place. Rather, Phillips sent one of the sailors down to search the ship with an unarmed Somali pirate, at which point the chief engineer ambushed the pirate with a knife and took him hostage.

930353 - Captain Phillips

Jasin Boland / © 2013 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Phillips is kidnapped on the lifeboat as the pirates leave the Alabama

Ruling: Mostly Fact

Phillips actually tried to put the pirates on an open-air boat first (so that the Navy could more easily shoot them), but the battery was busted. He decided to use the enclosed bright orange life boat from the movie instead, hoping to just get the pirates off the ship. The crew tried to exchange the captured pirate for Captain Phillips, as depicted in the movie, but once the pirate hostage climbed off the Alabama, the pirates drove the lifeboat away without letting Phillips climb onto the Alabama.

Phillips attempted to escape by swimming away from the lifeboat 

Ruling: Fact

Phillips pushed one of the pirates into the water while he was relieving himself outside the hatch and tried to swim away. However, the moon was so bright that the pirates could easily spot him and retrieve him, after shooting rounds over his head. When they recaptured Phillips, the pirates beat him up and tied him up.

Navy SEALs took out the Somali pirates while Captain Phillips was strung up and blindfolded 

Ruling: Part fact, part fiction

When the pirates realized they were trapped, they did plan to kill Phillips, but not in a panic. Phillips describes them setting up a ritual-like way in which they would kill him that included stringing him up. They fired shots near his head, scaring him, and left him tied up for days. However, they eventually untied him when Phillips got so sick that a Navy doctor had to come on board the lifeboat to bring him food and examine him. After one of the pirates fired off a few rounds into the air during an argument with his colleagues, the pirates went to the hatch to reassure the Navy that Phillips was okay. At that point, the SEALs killed all the pirates, leaving Phillips safe lying on the floor of the boat.

Towards the end of his ordeal, Phillips took pity on at least the youngest of his captors

Ruling: Fiction

Phillips said before a screening of the movie, “We were always adversaries. I thought it was important to make sure we both knew we were adversaries in that. I thought that was important for me and my survival. There was no Stockholm syndrome.” In the film, Phillips makes a few comments to the pirates that could be interpreted as sympathy, especially to the youngest pirate.

14 comments
laferriere
laferriere

where were they/what is a Somali pirate and are they gypsies/

aijustiniani
aijustiniani

The BIGGEST JOKE was the time Capt Phillips was able to dive away from the hostage situation (when he relieved himself) and the USS-NAVY-WATCHAMACALLIT was just floating idly! What, we can send man to the moon but we can't standby watch a hostage situation 24/7?!


If lights were beamed at the pirates, they wouldn't have seen/caught Capt Phillips -also bad swimming on his part.. Moon being too bright? SWIM DEEP!!! damn it..


Not 1 gun on deck for whatever protection..  Late response to a SOS call (Terrible advice if movie's accurate on that part)

TheDoctor1010
TheDoctor1010

Why American cargo ships do not have military personnel, like Coast Guard on board is beyond me. These ships, are American, which means they are American soil and should be protected by our military. And why don't these ships have weapons on board, at the ready? After viewing this movie and reading the article herein, I think it's time that all Americans insist that military personnel and weapons are on all American cargo ships.

Carcotas
Carcotas

It's fair to say that the movies which have been walking away with Box Office numbers this year have been either big superhero movies or big sci-fi movies. If you're wondering whether or not you should go and see this film because it looks like something a little different DO IT! This is a film, regardless if you already know the story, which delivers excellent acting, excellent moments of tension and excellent use of emotion which ,when you leave the theatre, won't be difficult to feel at all.


Now if you're still considering whether or not you should go and see this film, let's address the rumours you might have already heard:

1.There's been a lot of talk about Tom Hanks potentially claiming another Oscar - yes he simply HAS to be up for contention after this. True in the first half of the film he doesn't necessarily have to be all out emotional, but he does enough so that when we reach the second half and ultimately the final act, we are in as much shock and awe as the character of Richard Phillips through watching his performance.

2. A few people have said "too much Tom Hanks." There's two sides to this: Obviously he's going to be in the story a lot because he is the star BUT he doesn't give the only good performance here; the Somali pirates are truly terrifying, not just because of what they are but because their characters have a lot of uncertainty making them very unpredictable.

More about the movie you can also find http://movieinfodb.com/en/movie/109424/Captain+Phillips-2013

Glaug-Eldare
Glaug-Eldare

Captain Phillips is a fraud.  His carelessness and ego placed his vessel and crew in danger, and it was only the professionalism of the people around him that saved the day.  Maersk Alabama was protected in spite of Captain Phillip's "leadership," not because of it.  He placed them far, far closer to the coast than they were supposed to be, ignored warning signs until it was too late, and botched everything after the boarding.  His entire book is self-congratulatory lies.  He couldn't even be bothered to get his crew's names right, and didn't contact them for a factual account of the event.  I will not pay to help this charlatan promote himself on the backs of his crew.

BillKleinsturn
BillKleinsturn

Very well done, including casting Max Martini from his excellent role in the television show "The Unit" (Dirt Diver) as the SEAL team commander.  Awesome ending.  Too bad Michael Corleone didn't have a similar laptop at the ending of "Godfather II."

choiroll96
choiroll96

@TheDoctor1010  As ships owned by private businesses operating in international waters, it is against international maritime law to station military personnel on civilian ships. That being said, yes, they are still entitled to protection, but we are literally doing all we can. We have half a dozen destroyers specifically patrolling that area, an entire Carrier Group in the vicinity, and a international task force (Task Force 151) made up of dozens of countries sending dozens of warships to protect all vessels regardless of nationality. Furthermore, the businesses themselves aren't too fond of the idea and most have started hiring armed private contractors to protect their ships anyway. 

sandra0834
sandra0834

@TheDoctor1010 we barely have enough personnel on our own military ships, how the hell can we afford to have sailors/marines on board every cargo ship we have floating all over the world? I guess congress can always re-initiate the draft. Maybe you can hop on board

lleegle
lleegle

@PeterThompson1 why did the crew not have weapons of any sort? it is unbelievable that a few somalies in tiny boats could over power that large ship with a large crew....was there any possibility that captain phillips was in on the kidnapping? it just seemed ridiculous that they defended themselves with water hoses...what a joke

jitgocubs
jitgocubs

@Carcotas 


You are on point. I just finished watching the movie and it took me this long to actually watch the movie for the same reasons you pointed out. I knew how the story ended and I am not the biggest fan of Tom Hanks but I got to say, the movie keeps you at the edge of your seat and the acting by Hanks and the pirate actors is truly worth of Oscar contention. You will feel as if you yourself are going through the ordeal. 


Those who have seen the movie Fight Club. I was never a big fan of Brad Pitt until I watched Fight Club which made me respect him as an actor. This is the same feeling I got from Tom Hank's after watching Captain Phillips. 

toughworld
toughworld

Have you seen the movie ? because there are a lot of things which were pretty out of the world..i agree the story is great, but u shud go for the whole truth...