Captain Phillips

Nail-biting story of ship hijacking is fabulous but intense.
  • Review Date: October 9, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 134 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie has a global message about how terrorists aren't the only threats, and that poverty can also be a powerful enemy to peace and civilization. The movie also applauds Captain Phillips' ability to bravely and calmly be a selfless leader who cares more about his crew's safety than his own. There's also a message that despite differences in culture and circumstances, there's a shared universal humanity.

Positive role models

Captain Phillips is selfless and willing to sacrifice his safety to ensure the safety of his crew. Captain Phillips remains brave and clear-headed during unbelievably grim circumstances. He remains mostly calm and level-headed with the Somalis in order to protect his crew and later to buy himself time. Muse, the head Somali, is fascinating, because he is doing what he has to do for his village, even though it's dangerous and morally wrong. He genuinely believes he won't have to hurt anyone, just ask for the ransom and wait for the money. Many of the crew members rise to the occasion to fight the pirates.


Camera angles bring you up-close to the threats and intensity of the violence. The Somali pirates are heavily armed with semi-automatic machine guns that are usually pointed at the American civilians. At several points it seems like the Somalis are going to kill one of the Americans (usually Phillips). The military gets involved and plans a SEAL mission to try and save the captain, and they have instructions to take out his captors. One of the pirates is a teenager who is seriously hurt when he steps on shattered glass. Phillips is severely beaten. One bullet to the head results in blood/brain spatter on the wall.

Not applicable

A few uses of "s--t" and "piece of s--t," two "a--hole"s and one "ass." There is also "damn," "goddamn," and some threatening language.


Toyota Sienna, Sony computer.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The Somalis, including one teenager, chew a great deal of khat, a plant that is known for being an amphetamine-like stimulant. While it's a controlled substance in the U.S., it's legal in Somalia. Adults smoke cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Captain Phillips is an intense drama based on the true story of an American cargo ship that's hijacked by Somali pirates. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, the Bourne films) is known for his visceral depictions of action-packed violence, and Captain Phillips is a real nailbiter with extended scenes of suspense, menace, and violence. There is lots of blood, but just a few casualties -- none of them civilians -- but the camerawork makes the danger -- usually death threats facing a machine gun -- feel personal. Language includes a few uses of "s--t"; the Somalis often chew khat, a plant that's a stimulant; and characters smoke cigarettes as well.

What's the story?

Based on a true story, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS chronicles how the American cargo ship the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast in 2009. Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) has been assigned a dangerous route to take the container ship to Mombasa, Kenya. After hearing an advisory warning mariners to stay away from the Somali coast, Phillips sees two dots on the radar screen, which he later confirms is two boats filled with Somali pirates. Although the ship manages to escape being overtaken the first day, the next day one speedboat reaches the Alabama, with four young Somali pirates ready to call the shipping company to ask for ransom. Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the pirates, insists they're not terrorists, just businessmen. A series of unexpected events leads the four pirates to flee on a lifeboat with Phillips as their hostage. Meanwhile, the US Navy plans a rescue attempt to keep the lifeboat from reaching Somalia.

Is it any good?


Some moviegoers may have trouble sitting through another of director Paul Greengrass' in-your-face thrillers, where every moment is fraught with anxiety and dread. But Greengrass is like Hitchcock or Spielberg; he's a gifted storyteller of this genre of movies so intense you bite your nails down to the quick and can't settle your heartbeat. The cinematography, the editing, the score -- it's all set up to make your flight or fight reflex work in overdrive, as you identify wholly with Hanks' middle-aged commanding officer, a man of honor who doesn't suffer fools and who is afraid but still willing to deal with four young pirates holding deadly weapons at his heart.

It's no surprise that Hanks is a master of the craft, so what's truly amazing is how good the young Somali actors are, particularly Abdi as the leader of the four pirates. He tells a rival that he might be skinny, but he's no coward, and his bravery, albeit misguided, is there -- in the way he's unwilling to let his bigger, angrier fellow kill any civilians, including Phillips, and the quiet, calm way he explains that he's a fisherman without fish, implying that this life of piracy is what his warlord bosses expect of him. Even if you know the outcome of this standoff between the pirates and the US Navy, the characters and the performances make Captain Phillips a must see for anyone who appreciates high intensity in their action dramas.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's use of violence. Is the violence necessary to depict the true story? Could it have been less violent and still evoked the same intensity?

  • How does the filmmaker's use of camerawork and editing emphasize the sense of danger and violence?

  • What is the movie's message about the Somali pirates? Are they depicted purely as villains or as more complicated characters? Why do you think they do what they do?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 11, 2013
DVD release date:January 21, 2014
Cast:Barkhad Adbi, Catherine Keener, Tom Hanks
Director:Paul Greengrass
Studio:Columbia Pictures
Run time:134 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use

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Written byAnonymous December 26, 2014
age 14+

Very emotional and graphic hijacking tale has intense images

My rating: PG-13 for violent sequences,intense images and drug use
Parent Written bySam Donder October 13, 2013
age 14+

Captain Phillips is amazing suspenseful, but vey intense

Captain Phillips is one of the best thrillers of the year, but it is very intense and will scare young teens. There are very few deaths in the movie, but characters get bloody injuries, there is some torture, and throughout the movie innocent people have guns to their heads and are threatened to be killed. The acting from both the pirates and Tom Hans is amazing and is oscar quality. There are lots of positive messages and role models: Tom Hanks is willing to die for the safety of others, Muse wants to hijack the ship without hurting anyone, and the movie explains the pirates are doing what they have to do to survive and are not bad people. Overall this is a great thriller, but isn't for the faint of heart.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 13 years old Written byStrategist101 October 12, 2013
age 14+

Captain Philips

Overall an excellent film. "Captain Philips" captures the intensity of a pirate attack on the cargo vessel Maersk "Alabama." Some language is used, A**, S***, A***hole, etc, no worse than this. Violence is very graphic. A man is bludgeoned in the head with a wrench, a teen steps on broken glass and is severely cut. A man is cut on the hand and beaten with a metal pipe. Three men are shot to death through the window of a lifeboat; blood splatters over a blindfolded captive, who afterward, is in apparent shock (Understandably). Brain and skull matter are shown on the wall across from a dead Somali. Dead faces are shown, one with eyes open. Captain Philips is a positive role-model, he remains level-headed through most of the film and is willing to sacrifice his own safety for that of his crew. Great movie.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 13 years old Written byCritic101 October 12, 2013
age 13+


i think that due to the theme it should not be viewed by anyone under 13, i do though feel that this movie is very educational about the real world and i would love to watch it!


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