Follow TV Tropes


Film / Captain Phillips

Go To
"Look at me. I am the captain now."
Abduwali Muse

Captain Phillips is an American drama film released in October 2013 about the Real Life Maersk 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:

  • Actor Allusion: Tom Hanks "has a problem" again. The boat is even named after the U.S. state that a character he played is from. And this isn't the first time he played a captain. Doubles as Life Imitates Art because, according to his own account of the ordeal, the real Captain Phillips did say, "Shane, we've got a problem," at one point (when the open MOB - man overboard - failed to start, forcing them to give the pirates the enclosed lifeboat instead). Nor is it the first time he's left a loved one at the airport for work only to run into trouble on the high seas.
  • 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. Even worse, to rub some salt in these wounds—quite litteraly— Phillips at the end pushes him into the sea in order to escape, quipping "Saltwater would be good for your foot". Ouch.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The Somali pirates, especially Muse and Bilal, are shown to not have much of a choice becoming pirates. Between their fishing grounds ruined 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.
  • Arc Words: "Don't worry Irish, everything gon' be OK." Doubles as Tempting Fate.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Muse claims that his crew made a score of 6 million dollars prior to hijacking the Alabama while talking to Phillips on the lifeboat. Phillips isn’t convinced.
    Captain Phillips: So what are you doing here?
  • 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 magazine, but does not eject a round from the chamber. Whether or not he'd chambered a round beforehand is unclear.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: 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—but in cuffs to face trial for piracy, and the end credits reveal he was convicted and sentenced to 33 years in an American prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. A prison cell is obviously not the way he had envisioned his stay in the America...
  • Big "NO!": Played for Drama. After the pirates are shot, Phillips says "What was that?!" He manages to slide his blindfold down just enough to see the dead pirates nearby, causing him to scream "Oh no!" and start crying. Phillips is not only in shock at seeing them dead, but he was trying to talk them into surrender, and he failed.
  • Big "YES!": The pirates' reaction when they learn they've just hijacked an American ship.
  • Blatant Lies: When trying to catch the Alabama, Muse claims to be the Somali coast guard here to help out. Notably, the crew of the Alabama just ignores him.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Captain Phillips, when the SEALs kill the pirates remaining on the lifeboat, gets those pirates' blood all over him. He does not react to it well. This also momentarily confuses the medic who treats him afterwards; she asks him a few times if he really is not physically hurt because of how he looks, and after denying that he is physically hurt a few times, Phillips simply says that it's not his blood.
  • 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 (a U.S. Navy medic) telling Phillips that he's going to be OK.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The SEALs bring the crisis to a close.
  • Boring, but Practical: High pressure hoses might not sound like much of a defence from pirates, but if you're in a small boat out of sight of land, then something that can fill your boat with water is not to be taken lightly. The pirates board the ship at a point where the hoses are not working.
  • 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 (a standard Navy PT shirt), the better to distinguish him from his captors in the low-light conditions.
  • Comically Small Bribe: The pirates see Phillips' offer of $30,000 (all the cash in the ship's safe) as this. In real life, Phillips never offered the cash until much later because he knew they laugh at such a measly amount.
  • 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: 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.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Played with. The obvious choice, playing the trope straight, would be to always refer to CAPTAIN Phillips with "Captain". This doesn't happen once the pirates take over the ship (as one of them himself says, he [the pirate] is the captain now, not Phillips anymore. But instead of simply addressing him as "Mr. Philips" from then on, the pirates only ever call him "Irish" (supposedly after Phillips' ethnicity).
  • Faking Engine Trouble: One of the bluffs Phillips uses to stall the Pirates, claiming the ship's engines overheated after their chase.
  • Flare Gun: Philips tries firing three emergency flares at the approaching pirates, to little effect.
  • 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 alive.
  • 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. Only one of the pirates seems to realize what is going down. Phillips understands, and starts writing a farewell note to his family, just in case.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We hear the shots, and we see the aftermath (including Captain Phillips soaked in blood), but the fatal wounds to the pirates happen offscreen.
  • 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. It's even mentioned once he gets on the boat that he's in shock. Once the adrenaline wears off and the reality of what's happened begins to sink in, Phillips almost has a Freak Out, but the medical personnel there keep him focused and breathing calm enough to answer them.
  • 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, so taking a shorter route and thus spending less time in pirate-infested waters was the safer option; 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 by putting on a deep voice. 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 due to the driver pushing it too hard.
  • 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 Captain Phillips 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 businessman! Is this how you do business?!"
    • A Navy officer gives Muse his word that the tribal elders are on their way to resolve the ransom demand. As soon as word comes that Phillips is safe, Muse is taken into custody instead.
  • 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 take him into custody.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Muse and Bilal veer into this territory during the third act. Najee and Elmi... not so much.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • While in the lifeboat, the pirates complain that this situation is Not What I Signed on For, just as Phillips' crew did a few days ago.
    • The UKMTO operator downplays the pirate threat, saying that the approaching men are probably "just fishermen." It later turns out that they are fishermen. Or rather, they were fishermen before they became pirates.
  • 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."
  • I've Come Too Far: Muse is going to carry out his plan, no matter what.
    "I go too far, Irish."
  • 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.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers prominently showed the lifeboat being ejected. Some who were unfamiliar with the story assumed most of it took place on this ship and this scene must be from the Grand Finale. Nope, it's halfway.
  • 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 order on the lifeboat. However, the SEAL snipers are already lining up their shots, so it winds up not making much of a difference.
    • 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 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.
  • One-Liner, Name... One-Liner: Muse's response to Phillips' suggestion that he must have another career choice: "Maybe in America, Irish, maybe in America."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Rage Breaking Point: After spending two-thirds of the movie being abused by the pirates in one way or another, Captain Phillips finally snaps by physically attacking Najee after he snatches away the farewell letter Phillips was writing to his family.
  • Recycled Premise: Captain Tom Hanks gets trapped in a lifeboat after disaster strikes his ship. All the more fascinating because both events really happened.
  • 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. They even provide the image for the trope!
  • 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 and execute him. Thankfully he exposes himself to the SEAL snipers' line of sight while holding a pistol to Philips' head, when he loses his balance after Frank Castellano, the commanding officer of the USS Bainbridge, ordered his men to stop towing the lifeboat.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: A Marine JAG comes aboard the ship where the snipers were stationed. He deliberated with the chain of command and advised them on when it would be legally permissible to take shots to save Captain Phillips. This is exactly what happens, as three of the pirates are shot, and the fourth one is arrested just as a gun is pointed at Captain Phillips.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Subverted. The Somali pirates fire a round next to Captain Phillips ears and it is extremely painful for him.
  • 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The pirates, quite literally, once the U.S. Navy showed up.
  • Tragic Villain: The pirates get a Sympathetic P.O.V. in the first third of the film, showing that they're ultimately Forced into Evil by terrible sociological conditions, having to pay warlords or die and having no other reliable method to pay them (since their fishing grounds are drying up due to nautical pollution and illegal foreign fishing). While their actions are villainous and putting innocents in jeopardy, it's hard not to feel sad when Muse discusses the idealized version of America, land of opportunity, and wanting to see it. The film's take on Muse and his companion can essentially be summarized by the exchange where Phillips insists there must be something else to do in life other than piracy and Muse can only mutter, sadly: "Maybe in America, Irish. Maybe in America."
  • Turn of the Millennium: Set in 2009. The incident led to much greater armed security aboard US-registered cargo vessels between then and the year of the film's release.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is 90% accurate, but there are a few embellishments.
    • 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.
    • The leader who was captured in the engine room was held down there for twelve hours. In the film they arrange for the hostage exchange almost immediately after capturing him.
    • 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.
    • In the film, the pirates are lined up to all be shot at once when the main US Navy ship brakes, causing the lifeboat its towing to abruptly stop and making the final pirate, who was out of range, reflexively step forward into the final sniper's sight. In reality, the final pirate broke open a window for some air like what happened earlier in the movie, putting himself in range.
    • There was a Marine JAG who came aboard the ship where the snipers were stationed. He deliberated with the chain of command and advised them on when it would be legally permissible to take the fateful shots that saved Captain Phillips. This is not depicted in the film. Presumably depicting such bureaucratic tension would have cluttered up the pacing of the movie.
  • Villainous Underdog: Four Somali pirates in a dinghy versus the US Navy. The question isn't which side will ultimately win - it's whether the Navy gets a decisive win or a Pyrrhic Victory.
  • Villainous Valour: We see a degree of this with the boarding scene in which the pirates approach the larger vessel despite the rough seas caused by the Alabama's hard maneuvering.
  • Wham Line: For Muse at the end of the film: "Uh, Captain Phillips is free. All of your friends are dead."
  • You Have Failed Me: The pirates know this is what they face from their warlord Garaad if they go home empty-handed.


Video Example(s):


Captain Phillips in Shock

Captain Phillips finally breaks down after a traumatic hostage crisis.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / HeroicBSOD

Media sources: