October 12, 2013

A Navy SEAL’s Review of “Captain Phillips” The Movie & Some Left Out Secrets

In April 2009 four Somali pirates took down a US flagged vessel, the Maersk Alabama. The take-down got messy, and resulted in the ship’s captain taken hostage aboard one of the Maersk’s life boats. On April 12th, the hostage situation ended when SEAL snipers (from DEVGRU) flawlessly executed three pirates with simultaneous shots in the dark of the night, and on a moving platform at sea.

The movie (adapted from the book) Captain Phillips is largely less SEAL Team, and more about the experience of Rich Phillips during his ordeal as a Somali hostage. Less SEAL focus is one of the things I appreciated most about this movie. First, go see it, it starts a little slow but ends up delivering.

I’ll openly admit my bias, I find it hard to read a Brad Thor book or watch action movies because I always find some fault with them with regards to accuracy or mis-used military terminology.Where I feel most let down in this movie is in the actual SEAL Team portrayal. Human growth hormone big SEALs (not accurate), no weapon close-ups, and corny phraseology, to name just a few.

While I am thankful Matt Bissonette wasn’t on set providing the same level of detail he did when he led the SEAL consulting team for Medal of Honor  (the active duty guys all received NJP), I thought the SEAL scenes could have had better Computer Generated Images (CGI) or paid more attention to detail when it came to military realisms. The production company could have taken their pick on this one. An example of this is seen in Act of Valor (ultra realistic action), and the Bourne Legacy (great CGI). The lack of weapons close-ups will leave the action, and Airsoft junkies wanting.

Some things you may not know that were left out of the movie

  • The SEALs shot the pirates using night vision and lasers
  • Forces on scene recommended drugging the pirates and Phillips as an alternative to killing them. This was declined by higher ups (cough, cough…The White House). When this alternative method was declined the on scene commander gave word to take the pirates out. Good call if you ask me.
  • A Somali interpreter jumped in with the SEALs, in a tandem sky dive rig, into shark infested water at night. I heard he was terrified to jump.
  • All DEVGRU trained snipers are trained through the Naval Special Warfare/SEAL sniper course.
  • Crews in 2009 were not allowed to carry firearms. This has changed now.
  • Some ships now deployed directed sound energy to repel pirates.
  • The regular Navy guys that resupplied Phillips and the pirates with food and water were actually real SEALs dressed as regular Navy crewman.
  • Foreign fisherman have significantly depleted the once fertile fishing waters off the coast of Somalia. They now turn to piracy as a means to make a living.
  • Most piracy hostages off Somalia are ransomed off. On the opposite coast, near Nigeria, most are executed and the cargo sold off via the black market.
  • In 2012, three years after Phillips was taken hostage, there were over 50 pirate attacks off the Somali coast with over 170 hostages and 12 ships being held for ransom.

Go see it, Tom Hanks gives an excellent performance, and truly takes us inside Phillips’ head before and after he’s taken hostage.

Main photo: Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images

About the Author

is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with combat deployments to Afghanistan, and Iraq. During his last tour he served as the west coast sniper Course Manager at the Naval Special Warfare Center. He is Editor-in-Chief of SpecialOperations.com, a SOFREP contributing editor, and a New York Times best selling author (The Red Circle & Benghazi: The Definitive Report). Follow him on twitter here.

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  • leiber

    BrandonWebbJohnChristopher1 I remember Larry actually making fun of that, I don't think he said that! If I remember correctly.

  • Allwet

    ak1134FoCarDo yourself a favor, watch the whole clip.I am referring especially to the comments about Adam Brown's Funeral. Cap'd on purpose.

  • JohnChristopher1

    "All kinds of over the counter meds and supplements taken at sea level can become dangerous in high or low pressure environments. As a SAR swimmer I was only permitted to take a multi-vitamin and two aspirin a day on my own." Yes, diving and climbing are problematic. But there are plenty of stacks designed for professional divers and alpinists. (The USM's approach is basically, "If we didn't do the research, it doesn't count.") I can think of four or five people that have been asked to design stacks for varied Canadian and EU operators. And we're clearly beyond the aspirin days, as there's overwhelming evidence of indifference (and explicit approval) re supplements and label and off-label use of sorts of medications. Wasn't it Bissonnette who mentioned alternating Lunesta and Modafinil? I'm actually surprised there more operators haven't dived in to the supplement market. Kill Cliff is the only one I can think of. You'd make a lot more than consulting for MoH.

  • 124YK

    There's an economic motive for virtually every terrorist, some of which could be mitigated by nations following their own rules, like no overfishing of another country's seas.  Yes, that was a relevant mention by Brandon.

  • bobo99

    Thank you for mentioning the important issue of "Foreign fisherman have significantly depleted the once fertile fishing waters off the coast of Somalia. They now turn to piracy as a means to make a living." Another fact many foreign nations dump their medical, nuclear, and regular waste off the coast of Somalia, further destroying their fishing stock (and leading to horrible deformities to the people consuming what is caught). Since they have no reliable government, they are unable to regulate their waters both from foreign or domestic transgressors. Realize this was a movie review, but feel it's important to mention such an important component of this problem.