The film “Captain Phillips,” based on a true story which occurred in 2009, is not for the faint-hearted. It shows violence, bloodshed, vengeance, and fear. It is clearly not a film that women would enjoy.

In the film “Captain Phillips,” Tom Hanks plays the title role of the commanding officer of the Maersk Alabama, a ship carrying goods through the Indian Ocean, where pirates had been operating in abundance. The Captain was told to stay at least 600 miles off the Somali coast for safety’s sake. Reports stated that four armed Somali pirates boarded the ship when it was 380 miles from Somalia. The Maersk Alabama is the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. One wonders why a cargo ship such as that would not have an armed crew on board.

Several E-mail warnings had been sent to all ships traveling in the Indian Ocean concerning the danger of pirates in that region; one in particular urged the Alabama to stay clear of the shipping lanes where the vessel was heading. Phillips apparently ignored these warnings to stay farther off the coast of Somalia.

The pirates were unable to take control of the ship and seized the Captain to show them how to operate a heavy lifeboat. He was held prisoner of the Somalis for five days in the lifeboat, receiving several beatings for his recalcitrance.

The essence of the tale revolves around the relationship of Captain Phillips and the Somali leader, called Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who spoke casually of his desire to go to America. Muse was accused by his own men of taking Phillips’ side in the controversy. Signs of unrest arose among the pirates while the Alabama crew cooperated with each other, hiding in the munitions quarters and maneuvering the ship’s lighting.

It took two helicopters of Navy Seals to rescue Captain Phillips. These scenes are the bloodiest that are shown. The episode showing Captain Phillips being cared for when he reaches a hospital are very true-to-life, showing his vulnerability rather than his valor. Tom Hanks does a creditable job with this scene.

The film is not without controversy. Crew members have stated that Captain Phillips was not a hero, and that the film is a big lie. Phillips apparently had a bad reputation for many years, and was characterized as being sullen and self-righteous. The crew had urged Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast. They claim that he deliberately sailed the ship in harm’s way to shorten the tip to Kenya in order to save money.

Captain Phillips, in his book “A Captain’s Duty,” acknowledged that there were mistakes. He does not claim to be a hero; rather he states that the real heroes are the Navy Seals, as well as his own crew, who stayed calm, followed orders, and prevented a greater tragedy. Incidentally, Muse got his wish to go to America; he faced charges in an American court.

The film “Captain Phillips,” was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Barkhad Abdi who played Muse). It did not win any Oscars, losing out to “12 Years a Slave,” for Best Picture.



A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea
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