Did Hollywood Manipulate the Truth to Enhance Captain Phillips?

Most men love a good action film, and most women will admit to enjoying a good romance. But let’s face it: although interesting, documentaries aren’t the biggest blockbusters. This is exactly why Hollywood tries to take true stories and liven them up with drama, special effects and action that may not be historically accurate. But, who cares, right? As moviegoers, we appreciate the extra “creativity” because it entertains. However, sometimes this creativity or artistic license, gets in the way of the true story. This is exactly what happened to Captain Phillips, as portrayed by Tom Hanks, in the film of the same name.

A popular tactic among epic moviemakers is to take a historical event and focus on one (sometimes imaginary) “hero,” in order to represent the many who were affected. This allows the audience to better empathize with the hero instead of having to focus on a group. This tactic, although effective, sometimes makes the hero larger than life and obscures the heroic actions of the historic individuals who actually committed them. A few examples of this obscurity can be found in films such as The Patriot, U-571, and Gladiator.

  • In The Patriot, one man is made into the hero; however, in real life, one man didn’t single handedly bring down General Cornwallis to win the Revolution. The Colonial Militia as a whole, helped turn the tides for American soldiers to succeed.
  • In the true story behind U-571, the heroic actions of hundreds of naval officers were able to capture enemy codes and encryptions to help decipher enemy messages which resulted in saving hundreds of lives. The “hero,” Lt. Andrew Tyler, is completely fictional but represents the true heroes of WWII.
  • Gladiator obscures the lives of ancient Gladiators by shadowing them against a war hero such as Maximus. Gladiator also employs another audience manipulation tactic of changing history altogether. This allows the events to create more drama and intensity for the viewer. Despite what the film shows, Commodus was never truly suspected of murdering his father, nor did he have a vengeful relationship with one of his father’s generals. He did enjoy gladiator games, but he wasn’t murdered in the arena out of personal revenge. He was killed in his own bathtub for political reasons.

Although these films aren’t billed as historical documentaries, the fact that they are based on historical events lends confusion and manipulation of the truth. These Hollywood tactics, although very powerful in enhancing the drama and emotional participation within the audience, inevitably gets in the way of the true story. As a result, the viewers perceive that the historical interpretation on screen is fact, although liberties were obviously made to distort the truth.

For more information on how the film Captain Phillips joins the list of manipulative “fact-based” films, please visit the Truth About Captain Phillips. If you have any questions regarding our case against Maersk, contact VB Attorneys at 877.724.7800.