Captain Phillips – A Truer-Than-Life Pirate Hijacking Movie

Posted: 4th December 2013 | Written by: Jelly


For the past five years I have lived on my sailing boat and sailed her all over the South Coast of the UK, in addition to regularly volunteering with sail training charities. So it follows that one of my favourite ever films is Master and Commander – the epic adaptation of the historical naval novel starring Russell Crowe. I love watching anything with boats in, as I take pleasure in seeing how others experience life at sea – and it’s good fun to spot the mistakes!

So when I heard that Captain Phillips was coming out in 2013, I couldn’t wait to see it – and not being a regular cinema-goer or film-watcher, this was a big thing for me. The Hollywood blockbuster stars Tom Hanks in the lead role of Richard Phillips, the Captain of the Maersk Alabama container ship. If this is already ringing bells for you, that’s because it’s based on the true story of the Alabama’s hijacking by pirates off Somalia in 2009.

pirates small2Piracy along this coastline is a problem today just as it was back in 2009, continuing to affect our crews and the world’s maritime industry, whether we are trying to navigate the region on merchant or pleasure yachts.

Some criticism has emerged of the negative way Somalians were portrayed in the film, but the script does give voice to the Somalians’ concerns that they have no choice to be pirates as their old livelihood as fishermen has been ruined by foreign fishing fleets.

To be honest, I was more occupied with how brilliant the actors portraying the Somalian pirates were – it seemed a little too real, and I wouldn’t like to bump into them at sea. 

Indeed, the biggest criticism I have is that some parts of the film are more of an advert for the US Navy and SEALS – but it’s easy to take that bit of the action with a pinch of salt and just enjoy it for what it is.

rescue photoThe whole film is shot aboard the ships involved, which really throws you into the nautical setting. I enjoyed putting my seafaring knowledge into action by trying to spot any bloopers, but the producers have obviously done their research as there are no fake wind machines or port/starboard terminology mix-ups here.

And that’s nothing less than we should expect, given the headlining actor. I’m by no means a big fan, but I’ve seen quite a few of Hanks’ films, and this has to be one of his best acting performances yet. There’s one particular scene right at the end which is so good that you can’t help but think Hanks’ whole career was building up to that one moment. You’ll know what I mean when you watch it yourself – and if you have any interest in boats, the sea, human psychology or foreign affairs, then you really need to see this film. Even better if you can grab the DVD and watch it aboard a boat at sea – that’ll give you the creeps about the slightest speck on the ship’s radar (which is the only blooper I can spot – radars don’t bleep).

captain phillips 600
You know you’ve seen a good film when you can’t stop thinking about it afterwards. I came straight home and Googled the real Maersk Alabama story, wanting to see how much of the film was true, and expecting to be disappointed by its glamorous movie makeover. But the best part of the whole Captain Phillips experience was reading through the Wikipedia entry afterwards, and realising that the action was all pretty much true (although there is some controversy.)

I think it’s just knocked Master and Commander off my top spot.

*Read a crew member's personal account: Three Ways to Deal With Pirates

*Read latest piracy news: Somali Pirates Jailed After Murdering Yacht Crew




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