Captain Phillips is an American drama film released in October 2013 about the Real LifeMaersk Alabama hostage situation, in which Somali pirates boarded and seized a freighter. It was directed by Paul Greengrass. Tom Hanks stars as the eponymous Captain Richard Phillips. It was highly successful critically and at the box office, with six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, and a worldwide box office take of $218 million on a relatively small $55 million budget.
This film contains examples of:
Agony of the Feet: Upon learning that one of the pirates is barefoot, the crew of the Maersk Alabama strew broken glass by the door to the engine room. Bilal steps right into it and is pretty much taken out of action. He spends the rest of the film in great pain.
Alas, Poor Villain: The Somali pirates, especially Muse and Bilal, are shown to not have much of a choice becoming pirates. Between their ruined fishing grounds by factory ships and illegal waste dumping at sea and Somali warlords who obviously would kill them on a whim, piracy is depicted as the only way to survive. That said, their brandishing weapons and threatening crew with murder is beyond the pale and they had a chance to surrender to US forces and be jailed in America.
Captain Phillips: There's got to be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people.
Muse: Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America.
Amateur Cast: None of the Somali actors had ever acted before. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, earned several award nominations including an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In addition, some of the Navy personnel were actual Naval officers, including the Petty Officer who plays the corpsman that treats Phillips at the end of the film (her words and tone carry quite a level of authenticity when treating a traumatized victim).
Artistic License - Gun Safety: In universe example. While using the life boat to escape to Somalia, one of the pirates attempts to smash open a window in order to get some air. Captain Phillips notes that the pirate is using a loaded rifle to do this. The pirate removes the clip, but does not eject a round from the chamber. Whether or not he'd chambered a round beforehand is unclear.
Although the film makes it seem like Phillips was only aboard the lifeboat for a day and a half, Captain Phillips was actually held hostage there for five days.
invokedIn real life, the trap with the broken glass never happened, although Muse really did have his hand sliced open when he was captured by the crew. Muse has a gun and is alone when he is captured in the film; in real life he went below deck with a crew member unarmed.
Phillips also tried to pretend that he didn't understand the pirates, which doesn't occur in the film.
There were 3 skiffs after the Alabama on the first attack, not just two. After the bluff about the incoming air support, two of them fled and the last one kept pursuing, as depicted.
There was a drill occurring during the first pirate attack, but it was a fire drill, not a pirate drill.
Phillips' biography makes no mention of writing a farewell note to his family like depicted at the climax.
Asskicking Equals Authority: Between attempts on the Maersk Alabama, Muse orders another pirate to give him another engine for his skiff. The other guy doesn't take it so well; he starts yelling at Muse and threatens to shoot him. Muse gives him a wrench upside the head. No one gives him a problem after that. Until the situation starts going to hell when they're in the Maersk's lifeboat.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Muse rambles about how he wants to go to America once he strikes it rich. By the end of the film, he's on his way to America in chains to face trial for piracy.
Berserk Button: After spending two-thirds of the movie being abused by the pirates in one way or another, Captain Phillips finally snaps and physically attacks Najee after he snatches away the farewell letter Phillips was writing to his family.
Big "YES!": The pirates' reaction when they learn they've just hijacked an American ship.
Bluff The Eavesdropper: Knowing that pirates frequently listen in on ships' radio conversations, Phillips pretends to be in contact with a Navy warship on its way to help. It works but ultimately only delays the attack by a day.
Book Ends: The film begins with one woman (his wife) asking Phillips if everything is going to be OK, and ends with another woman (the Navy medic) telling Phillips that he's going to be OK.
Captain Obvious: The UKMTO operator Phillips calls during the first pirate sighting tells him in a flat voice to do exactly what he and his crew are already doing and not to worry. Phillips is stunned into silence.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Deliberately invoked, in-universe. When the negotiators come out to the lifeboat, they also bring a "clean uniform" for Captain Phillips. This consists of a bright yellow shirt with a reflective silver "NAVY" logo printed on the front and back, the better to distinguish him from his captors in the low-light conditions.
Comically Small Bribe: The pirates see Phillips' offer of $30,000.00 (all the cash in the ship's safe) as this. In real life, Phillips didn't even offer the cash until much later because he knew they laugh at such a measly sum.
Composite Character: The film names the pirate leader Muse. In real life, Muse and the one in charge were two separate pirates.
Consummate Professional: Elmi has shades of this with him neither moaning like Bilal or shouting like Najee instead most of his dialogue is trying to get Muse to calm the situation down.
David Versus Goliath: An unusual inversion, where Goliath is the protagonist: first it's four Somalis (one of whom has no shoes) versus a giant cargo ship, then it's the same four men against a US destroyer, and it gets scaled up even more when the destroyer is joined by a frigate and an amphibious assault ship. Against four men with guns in a tiny lifeboat.
Decomposite Character: In the film, two pirates are injured — Muse the leader gets his hand cut when the crew takes him captive, and the young Bilal cuts his foot on broken glass, which Phillips later bandages up on the lifeboat. In real life, the leader was the only one who got injured, and he was the one Phillips treated.
Foregone Conclusion: Considering that the movie is based off of a memoir by the real Captain Phillips, you know he is going to come out ok.
Genre Blind: When the pirates are taken under tow by the Navy Destroyer Captain Phillips is given a high visibility shirt to wear and the lifeboat is illuminated by powerful floodlights. One of them seems to realize what is going down.
Guile Hero: Captain Phillips and his crew outwit the pirates due to their superior knowledge of the ship.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Najee. Being in a stressful situation as well as being fucked up on khat probably doesn't help.
Heroic BSOD: Captain Philips upon his rescue. He's in tears and can barely speak during his subsequent medical examination.
Historical Hero Upgrade: Phillips is made into a more heroic figure by offering his life when his 2nd mate is going to be shot. He then ends up letting himself be a hostage in exchange for the pirates leaving the ship. In reality, Phillips never offered his life and was more the subject of a botched hostage exchange than letting himself become one, which he himself admits in interviews. Additionally, some of Phillips' former crew feel he was responsible for the hijacking because he ignored suggestions to steer the ship farther from the coast, but Phillips countered that they would have been just as unsafe 600 miles away as they were at 300; an argument depicting this dichotomy of thought is in the film.
Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: During the pirates' first attempt to capture the Maersk Alabama, Captain Phillips bluffs them by pretending to talk to a nonexistant naval vessel, providing the Navy's responses himself. When he says that a helicopter will be showing up in five minutes, most of the pirates take off. Muse isn't fooled, but the engine on his skiff craps out.
Hope Spot: The Maersk Alabama manages to shake off the pirates on the first day thanks to seas too rough for a small pirate skiff and a good bluff on Phillips' part on the radio. The tables turn the next day.
I Gave My Word: Muse tells the Captain he is just a "businessman". When his henchmen start pointing guns at the bridge crew the Captain appeals to Muse to stick to his word:
"You said you were a business man! Is this how you do business?"
I Surrender, Suckers: Inverted. Muse surrenders to the Navy when they offer to take him aboard their destroyer where he can receive food and medical care. He does and expects his crew to join him soon after for a peaceful negotiation. Once his crew is killed, though, the Navy men chatting with him immediately jump on Muse and treat him with extreme hostility.
It's Personal: Muse's insistence on going back after the ship that just escaped them hints of this.
It's Probably Nothing: The UKMTO operator's reaction to Phillips' call when they first spot the pirates. "It's probably just fishermen."
Jerkass Has a Point: Najee is by far the most reckless and potentially violent of the pirates, but he's also the only one who can tell from the beginning that they're being constantly played and manipulated by both Phillips and the Navy.
Jitter Cam: It's a Paul Greengrass movie, so it's to be expected.
Kill It with Fire and Water: The only defenses the cargo ship has against pirates are flares and high-powered hoses.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Downplayed. The Navy manages to remove Muse from the lifeboat under pretense of 'Negotiations' ...but he is also the one keeping any semblance of stability on the lifeboat. However, the SEAL snipers are already lining up their shots, so it winds up not making much of a difference.
Near the end, Captain Phillips sees a pen and begins covertly writing a letter to his family in despair...which only makes thing much more unstable when Najee catches him and flips out on him, resulting in Phillips getting hogtied and scared out of his remaining wits during the final shouting match (very nearly getting himself shot right then and there).
The Navy had also specifically told Phillips to stay in the seat he had been, implying that they need to account for him when they would strike by knowing where in the lifeboat he is; instead, Phillips skirmishing with Najee delays action from the snipers, as it moves some of the pirates out of sight and Phillips into the fray.
Not So Different/Plot Parallel: The film's structure nicely sets this up between Phillips' crew and the pirates: the scene of Phillips leaving Vermont for his new assignment is followed by Muse choosing his crew for his latest mission in Somalia; the scene of the crew discussing their first pirate scare on the Maersk Alabama is followed by the pirates dealing with the fallout from the same attempt back on the mothership, with both captains getting some grief from their men; and both Phillips and Muse have to keep their men in line when they start losing their cool because this is Not What I Signed On For.
Not What I Signed On For: Several of the crew's reaction to the first scare with the pirates, much to the Captain's irritation. This later receives an Ironic Echo when Muse's men start saying the job was supposed to be much easier, and he chews them out the same way Philips and Shane did their crew.
Oh Crap: Several for the Captain when the pirates are approaching, and it's clear no help is going to be coming soon, but mostly when they get their ladder hooked on and climb aboard.
The pirates get one of their own later on, when Naval Intelligence makes contact with them and calls them all by name, making it clear they know exactly who they are, where they're from, and even what tribe they belong to.
The Operators Must Be Crazy: Phillips calls UKMTO to say, "Help! We're being chased by pirates!" and gets an operator who calmly tells them they should follow procedures, get their hoses ready, stay calm, etc. Phillips is too shocked to respond, but you can see "TELL ME SOMETHING I DON'T KNOW, LADY!" in his eyes.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Tom Hanks does a pretty good Massachusetts accent throughout the film, but it noticeably disappears when he starts screaming in panic at the climax of the film.
Punch Clock Villain: Most of the pirates are only doing their job and don't have any other way to make money. When the pirate crew is being assembled, the operation is described as "work."
Ruthless Modern Pirates: They raid the Maersk Alabama. It turns out the pirates were fishermen, who have been driven to desperation after mechanized fishing boats picked clean the waters off the Somali coast.
Sanity Slippage: Captain Philips really starts to lose his wits after the pirates re-capture him after he attempts to escape the lifeboat, and Najee attempts to strangle him to death. Then he really starts freaking out after Najee catches him writing a farewell letter and then prepares to blindfold, hogtie, and execute him. Thankfully he exposes himself to the SEAL snipers' line of sight as he holds his pistol to Philips' head.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The pirate mothership gets the hell out of Dodge once the American Navy shows up. Captain Philips tries to dissuade the pirates with this information, but Muse says that he's come too far.
Earlier, one of the pirate skiffs flees after hearing Captain Phillips' bluff about a gunship being on its way.
Scylla and Charybdis: After their first narrow escape, some of Phillips' crew try to tell him to go farther away from the coast. Phillips replies that they can't avoid pirates completely no matter how much farther out they go and decides it's better to get to Mombasa with the cargo as quickly possible instead of extending the trip by going hundreds of more miles out to sea where they probably wouldn't be any safer anyway.
Television Geography: As anyone who lives in Vermont will tell you, there is no four-lane highway anywhere in the state, and to get off at the Burlington International Airport, one would get off at exit 12, not exit 28C (which does not exist), if they were to take the interstate at all; it would be faster to go through the bordering town of Williston. Vermont has strict rules about highway signs and the ones shown on the interstate do not comply with said rules. They are very clearly Massachusetts signs if you are from the area. The airport in Burlington is also much smaller than the one depicted in the film.
This Is Not a Drill: Heard twice in the film, including when pirate skiffs start chasing the Alabama while Captain Phillips is conducting an anti-piracy drill.