Paul Greenglass, Director of “Captain Phillips,” Responds to Questions on Reddit About the Accuracy of His Film—But Is the Truth Being Stretched Again?

In a recent “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Reddit, Paul Greenglass, the director of the newly released Captain Phillips film, responded to a user question about reports of inaccuracies in the film. While the director attempts to defend the accuracy of his portrayal of the real-life 2009 pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama, even Greenglass has to admit that “you have to compress events and alter certain details to make sure that a 5- or 6-day complicated chain of events works as a 2-hour movie.”

Brian Beckcom, an attorney working with several of the crewmembers affected by the attack, has said before that “Mr. Greengrass is an excellent director, and I love his work. I really like this movie too. But it not only takes liberties with the facts, it stretches them to the breaking point.” Unfortunately, some of these stretched truths, as presented in the highly fictionalized film, were continued in his Reddit AMA. Here are some of the statements made in his responses:

  • “I show Captain Phillips (as I believe occurred) arguing that there was no point deviating the route, because pirate bands with motherships could attack them wherever they went.”  While a pirate attack may be possible anywhere, the US and British Navies very specifically released high-risk warnings about the area where the Maersk Alabama was attacked, along with distance recommendations—all of which were ignored.
  • And you don't win popularity contests as a captain. Your job, and certainly Richard [Phillips] says by his own admission, he was a professional merchant marine captain and he faced a dreadful challenge that day in the middle of the ocean far from help.” While there is no denying that the incident was challenging for everyone involved, the attack may have been avoided if the captain and shipping company had not chosen to send the vessel into known high-risk areas in an unarmed ship. The crew was left completely unprotected, while Maersk essentially “outsourced” their security to the U.S. military—at taxpayers’ expense.

Although the film focuses mostly on the bravery of Captain Richard Phillips, the true heroes in this story are the brave men and women of the U.S. Military, who performed the rescue of the vessel, and the crewmembers, who were left to fend off the attack with nothing but makeshift weapons. While Mr. Greenglass states that he is “confident” that Captain Phillips did not act irresponsibly and ignore warnings—and Maersk certainly has a stake in making this version of events the “official” version—there is sometimes a fine line between fiction and reality, and it’s clear that the film Captain Phillips relies on elements of fiction to create a more compelling story for its audience.

To learn more about the lawsuit behind the real-life events of the pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama, visit The Truth About Captain Phillips.