Sleepless in Somalia


Capt. Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama during a piracy hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2009. // AP

Joe Versus the Volcano” star Tom Hanks is rumored to have been cast as Capt. Richard Phillips — who achieved 15 minutes of fame when his merchant ship, the Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2009 — in the screen adaptation of Phillip’s book “A Captain’s Duty.”

Put 15 minutes back on the clock.

Tom Hanks // AP

The film is being produced by the same team who brought us the Oscar-winning film The Social Network last summer, according to the A.V. Club. This will be Hanks’ second time playing a captain — Capt. Jim Lovell in “Apollo 13” — and his second time playing a bearded man facing misadventures on the ocean.

It was just a matter of time. It’s not often we get a high seas adventure quite like the Maersk Alabama saga. It had it all: pirates, kidnapping, bounty, warships and SEALs. The only thing it didn’t have was a buxom female lead, a deficiency I’m sure the movie will correct.

The story told by Phillips came under some scrutiny after crew members came forward and painted a picture of a man who was reckless in pirate infested waters and who was partly to blame for the ship’s taking.

The New York Post reported last year that Phillips had also made misleading comments about certain aspects of the story, according to his crew.

The book portrays a scene where Phillips volunteers to be taken hostage to ensure the safety of the crew. But crew members told The Post that didn’t happen.

“He was told to go at gunpoint. He didn’t put himself out there, he was taken,” said lawyer Michael Forbes, who represented 16 of the 20 crew men after the hijacking. Their stories were consistent and are contradicted in Phillip’s book, he said.

When reporters asked Phillips whether he volunteer as a hostage last June, he said no, yet the whopper still appears in the book.

It’s true that you would be hard pressed to find a sea captain with the universal affection of a crew who agreed with the captain’s every decision. That could be what’s happening here. When Phillips was contacted by AP he told them he had expected this kind of criticism.

Reached by telephone at his home in Underhill, Vt., Phillips said he could not answer every “spurious accusation” and that he expected such criticism.

“But I don’t wish to say anything. I want you to report that I had no comment,” he said.

Who knows who is telling the truth in this situation. What is true is that there has been a veritable hit parade of these sorts of hero stories that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny — Jessica Lynch comes to mind.

It will be interesting to see which story gets told in the film. Will it be the made-for-the-big-screen version in “A Captain’s Duty,” or will it be the more nuanced version that takes everyone’s account under consideration?

Your move, Tinseltown.


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