Captain Phillips Is Great And All, But The Real Story Is A Little More Complicated

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Captain Richard PhillipsHave you seen Captain Phillips yet? Because if not, you should. Like right this very minute. It's still pretty early in Oscar season to make judgements, but I'll be really surprised if it isn't nominated for Best Picture. The script is great, Tom Hanks is great, the previously unknown actors who play the Somali pirates are great (particularly Barkhad Abdi, who plays Muse, and who I think you'll see in the Supporting Actor category), and plus, it gave me and Jenni approximately five heart attacks while watching it, so you definitely get a lot of bang for your anxiety buck.

But what I was most curious about after seeing it was the true story aspect. I remember this stuff happening back in 2009, so I knew the basic plot line was accurate but I was curious how much of it corresponded to real life, and what percent was simplified or streamlined or even outright changed for the movie.

And as it turns out, it's not that much, and I understand why things were omitted or edited,  but I found the things that were different both significant and interesting, so here's a list of what I've found:

  • After the pirates came aboard the Maersk Alabama, the ship was able to sink their skiff and the ladder they used to board the vessel was lost somehow, so they had no way back onto the ship.
  • The lead pirate, Muse, was actually tied up and held hostage by the crew for twelve hours instead of the matter of minutes that the movie portrayed. Obviously that one makes sense for time's sake.
  • After the pirates took Captain Phillips hostage in the lifeboat, their plan was to meet up with other vessels captured by armed Somali pirates that had hostages aboard, for additional bargaining power. It wasn't shown in the movie, but after being contacted by the pirates via satellite phone, four foreign vessels began a path to intercept the lifeboat. There were a total of fifty-four hostages split between two of these boats, citizens of China, Germany, Russia, the Philippines, Tuvalu, Indonesia, and Taiwan, but since the USS Bainbridge beat them to the scene, a stand-off was thankfully avoided.
  • There were more than three shots fired by the Navy SEALs to kill the pirates. In fact, the number has been estimated at nineteen by the US courts.The attorney representing the surviving pirate maintains that the other bodies were ‘riddled with bullets'.
  • Not all of these shots were head shots; according to Captain Richard Phillips' own story, one pirate was still alive when a SEAL boarded the boat seconds after shots were fired, and was shot again before succumbing to his wounds. Phillips has described him as ‘gasping' and said he heard a ‘death rattle', caused by two serious chest wounds — not just the three clean kills pictured in the movie.
  • Remember that $30,000 that the crew gave the pirates out of the safe? Well that went missing somehow, and it's never been recovered or explained.

But all in all, it sounds like the movie was fairly true to life:

Phillips commented in his interview that the rendition of the events was accurate but his thoughts on Tom Hanks were full of sarcastic enthusiasm, “When I met him I told him if he's going to play me he's going to have to put on a little weight and get a little better-looking and he did neither.”

So there you have it.

(Image: Collider)