Captain Phillips: a fact-lite thrill ride

Christian Butler

Topics Culture

In 2009, the Maersk Alabama, a container ship operated by the Waterman Steamship Corporation, was hijacked by Somali pirates. Subsequently, 11 of the ship’s crew are now suing the corporation in a $50million lawsuit for the ‘wilful, wanton and conscious disregard for their safety’ by the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips. They claim that Phillips kept emails from them warning of the threat of piracy in the area, and when the pirates approached the ship in the midst of a lifeboat drill, Phillips insisted they finish the drill instead of taking to their defence stations.

The good captain tells quite a different story in his autobiography, A Captain’s Duty. According to the book’s blurb, ‘when the pirates boarded his ship, Captain Phillips put his experience into action, doing everything he could to safeguard his crew’. It’s this version of the hijacking, portraying Phillips as an all-American hero, which is the source material for Tom Hanks’ latest blockbuster vehicle, Captain Phillips.

Director Paul Greengrass has wisely ignored the politics surrounding this film, and delivers a high-spec popcorn movie, in the mould of the Bourne films. In this sense, trawling for untruths in this ‘real life’ film becomes like criticising Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for historical discrepancies. That’s not to say the movie is an Alpha Papa-esque hostage-situation romp, but Greengrass’s assured direction never becomes heavy-handed.

The claustrophobic setting plays host to a slew of uniquely tense action sequences as the hijacking goes down, with Hanks offering up one of his most convincing performances in years.

It majorly fizzles out in the climax, in its attempts to create some sense of frayed true-to-life realism, but this is still a worthwhile thrill ride that will quell your inner, fact-checking cynic.

Christian Butler is a writer and musician based in London.

Watch the trailer for Captain Philips

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