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Tom Hanks stars in Captain Phillips, a film based on the true story about a container ship being hijacked by four Somali Pirates in 2009. Will this movie be another Oscar winner for Hanks or is it a film that should be sunk?


In early April 2009, Captain Richard Phillips is in command of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama. Its mission is to travel with goods from the Port of Oman and go around the Horn of Africa, an area heavy with illegal pirating. After his initial inspection of the ship, he orders his First Mate to lock down the entire ship and prepare for the travel into the dangerous waters off the Somali coastline. He also calls a meeting with the crew to prepare them for what’s ahead.

Meanwhile in a small fishing village in Somalia, local bosses round up their pirate captains. They demand money from the impoverished small fishing community. Two crews of men are picked and they set off in their boats to meet a mother ship 145 miles off the coast. One of the pirate captains is Muse who people in the village call him “Skinny.” Their plan is to board a lone ship and take the crew hostage or pilot the ship to an area to steal the cargo.

After reading hazard warnings in his email, Phillips orders his crew to perform safety drills to prepare for a pirate boarding. He has studied the protocols and plans to implement them. While the teams are connecting the fire hoses used to capsize small boats, Phillips notices two small blips on the RADAR screen. He hits the horns and calls for evasive maneuvers. He also gets on the phone to maritime security to let them know of the situation.

After two attempts of the hijacking, the Somali pirates lead by Muse successfully board the Alabama. Phillips orders his crew to disable the ship and hide in the engine room while he and his officers lock down the bridge. Armed with pistols and AK-47’s, the four pirates take over the bridge and Muse declares himself the new Captain. Can Phillips’ training and quick thinking save his crew and the ship or will things turn deadly out on the open sea?

L-r, Barkhad Abdi, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed star in Columbia Pictures' "Captain Phillips."


Captain Phillips is based on the novel “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea”, by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty. So if you are a smart cookie or know how to use Google, you already know that Phillips lives or else how would he have written the book. I’d compare the movie to another one based on true events, Zero Dark Thirty. The reason I compare the two is because everyone knows the outcome, but it’s really intriguing to see how the characters get to it. What director Paul Greengrass accomplishes is telling the captivating story from both points of view in a non biased way. It’s easy to say that the Americans are the good guys and the pirates are the bad guys, but the film smartly shows why the desperation of the Somali people has lead them to piracy.

Tom Hanks plays the lead role of Captain Richard Phillips. One thing we all know by now is that Hanks always picks great roles and portrays them well. For him, Phillips is another great character in his acting career. Hanks’ Phillips is extremely likable and plays a guy who is so intelligent, that he purposely plays dumb to stall his ship’s hijackers. He runs a tight ship from top to bottom. But he also shows a sensitive side as a family man absolutely scared to be out on the dangerous waters. In the opening scene on the way to the airport,  he talks with his wife (played by Catherine Keener) about how difficult it is to get a job nowadays. So he pretty much understands the risk, but does so anyway to provide for his wife and two older kids. Because his character accepts this risk, he expects everyone in his crew to do the same. What Hanks does with the character is really show that he leads by example and is willing to die for his crew. He’s not trying to be a hero, but rather a brave man performing his duty.

Captain Richard Phillips and Tom Hanks

The real life Captain Richard Phillips sits with Tom Hanks for a cover photo for Parade Magazine.

There are a lot of supporting actors in the film, but the most notable is Barkhad Abdi as the Somali pirate Muse. This is his first ever major motion picture acting role. This was surprising to me, because he plays like a veteran. Simultaneously he plays a villain who is both terrifying yet absolutely scared. The one thing I took away from the film is that of course the pirates are performing illegal acts, but because of huge commercial ships scaring off fish in the area, the fishermen no longer have a viable trade. Their desperation to feed their families as well as appease the local crime bosses forces these men and sometimes even teenagers into this life of crime. Abdi does a fantastic job portraying a man who deep down really isn’t a evil person at heart, but has used his experience as a fisherman to now try to survive the harsh world he comes from. Of course people may not agree with the actions of the Somalis, but the film helps you to understand where they come from.

The movie is directed by Paul Greengrass who marketing really wants you to know that he directed The Bourne Supremacy and the The Bourne Ultimatum. But I would go so far to say that I think the reason Captain Phillips works so well as a docudrama because of Greengrass’ experience on other movie, United 93 about one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. If you liked that movie, then I think you’ll enjoy Captain Phillips. As I stated before the director does a good job with writer Billy Ray’s screenplay adaptation to show every point of view from all the characters perspective that includes the American crew, the Somali pirates and eventually the US Navy and SEAL teams. This is why I compare it to a film like Zero Dark Thirty.

Captain Philips Somali Pirates

The Somali pirates: (L-R) Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, and Mahat Ali

Captain Phillips is a very good film about one man’s heroic journey into terror and how he not only survives, but does whatever it takes to protect his crew. I thought it was paced well and had very good character development. Visually it looked great and I commend the film for limited use of shakey cam. This is yet another fantastic performance by Tom Hanks.


verdict worth checking out

While I absolutely enjoyed Captain Phillips, I feel it’s a movie only really worth seeing once. It’s not a movie you’re going to see multiple times or rush out to buy it once it hits the home video market. It is a great docudrama with great performances by Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, both of whom may get Oscar nominations for Lead and Supporting roles. If you are looking for an intense thriller like Zero Dark Thirty or United 93, then I definitely think it’s worth checking out at least at a bargain matinee.

Official Site:

If you’d like to learn more about the events of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama as told by Captain Phillips himself, then check out his novel, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea“.

A Captains Duty Novel Richard Phillips

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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