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Truth, Fiction, and Somali Pirates: 'Captain Phillips' vs. 'Stolen Seas'

by Matt Brennan
November 19, 2013 4:24 PM
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Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips"
Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips"

By contrast, "Captain Phillips" renders the inaccessible immediate: Greengrass, a skillful hand when it comes to docudrama ("Bloody Sunday," "United 93"), revels in realism's jostle, even if it means sometimes crowding out the mundane aspects of the real. Based on the captain's reminiscences, the film follows Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) through the fretful hours of the Maersk Alabama's 2009 hijacking in a near-constant state of tension -- it left me wrung out like a tattered rag, weak-kneed from the excitement. It may also be something of a fabrication. (Slate's Forrest Wickman has an extensive analysis of the film's accuracy here.)

In the final estimation, each film deserves the other -- the whole that emerges from their two halves lends "Captain Phillips" context and "Stolen Seas" texture. The experience of each is better for the other's existence. Ishmael Ali proclaims himself a businessman and acknowledges that "piracy feeds a lot of people"; "Captain Phillips" shows young Somali men clamoring for space on the hijackers' boat and culminates in a series of stricken cries, as profoundly emotional as anything I saw at the movies this year. I cannot exactly pinpoint the truth of the matter in either case, but that's merely a way of saying that one man's imprecision is another's joy. 

"Captain Phillips" is playing in theaters nationwide. "Stolen Seas" is now available on VOD. Read TOH! contributor Bill Desowitz's "Immersed in Movies" column on "Captain Phillips," Dana Brunetti and Michael de Luca's comments on the controversy surrounding the film, and Tom Hanks' interview at the London Film Festival.


  • Ramesh | November 21, 2013 11:56 PMReply

    Captain Phillips feels like some nice homeboy studio exec went to cannes or someplace and saw Kaprigen and it scared the shit out of them.... so They twirled a cigar some and said You're not going to do that with the Good ol' U S of A pal! and made a new version of the pledge of allegiance. ;)

  • Ramesh | November 21, 2013 11:12 PMReply

    ( in all seriousness) you should really be comparing Captain phillips with the US national anthem. More people seem to know it, and sung correctly, it raises all the same questions that, to my mind, Captain phillips does, (mostly because I saw it AFTER I saw Kaprigen...which is the original.).

  • Matt Brennan | November 20, 2013 10:01 AMReply

    Ramesh, you're right: "A Hijacking" might have been a better point of comparison with "Stolen Seas," and the film is not only excellent, it also raises many of same the questions about reality, realism, and the relationship between the two that "Captain Phillips" does.

    I chose to focus on the latter because the recent release of "Stolen Seas" is clearly pitched to engage the Greengrass-Hanks adventure, and all of the buzz surrounding it. Given the popularity of "Captain Phillips," most people who see "Stolen Seas" will have that film in mind as they watch, so it seemed important to discuss how they were in conversation.

  • Ramesh | November 19, 2013 11:56 PMReply

    A Highjacking (kapringen) 2012 is the (Dutch) film you are looking for.

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