Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips: A Decent Boston Accent?

The big-time Hollywood actor is playing Captain Richard Phillips in the upcoming film based on the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates in 2009.

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Well, well. Looks like Tom Hanks is taking another swing at playing a Boston local in his upcoming film Captain Phillips, due out this fall. The movie, based on the true story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009, follows Captain Richard Phillips (Hanks) and his crew as they are attacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

Real life Captain Phillips is a real life Bostonian. According to The Daily News, he was a Boston cab driver before going to sea, and went to UMass before graduating from Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1979 as a transfer student. In the trailer for Captain Phillips, we learn that Phillips was a brave and noble guy, as he offered himself up as a hostage to the Somali pirates.

That said, it seems a little risky to give Hanks the task of portraying another Boston-bred figure. Sure, we already know Hanks is a terrific actor with all those Oscars and Golden Globes practically dancing around at his feet. But let’s not forget his infamous role as Carl “Cahhhl” Hanratty in the Steven Spielberg-directed film Catch Me If You Can, which co-starred Leonardo DiCaprio, in 2002. goes so far as to say his representation of a Bostonian is like “half-bad JFK, half-1920s fast talker, all aural holocaust.” Take a look here:

Yeah, Hanks earned his privilege to take any role as serious or lighthearted as he’d like, and it’s obvious he was joshin’ around with Carl Hanratty. But if he’s going to half-ass any role, the better half best be able to deliver an acceptable Boston accent. Come on, you’re a two-time Academy Award winner with a multimillion dollar paycheck. And this current role as an honorable American captain isn’t a character Hanks should be half-assing anyways.

That said, I’ll give Hanks some credit this time around. There is no throwaway acting from Hanks detected in the Captain Phillips trailer:

Seems like Hanks put a lot more effort into executing the Boston accent in its purest form. Despite how Bostonians are typically portrayed in the media, the “ah” sound on the “r” inflection is a little more understated than you’d think. In comparison, here is the real Captain Phillips interviewing with ABC News Radio after the hijacking:

As professional dialect coach Paul Meier has told me previously about the Boston accent: “Boston speakers are quietly spoken. It’s not an in-your-face accent. It’s often quite subtle, [similar to] most speakers you’ll come across… That lack of coloration that defines Boston’s sound is more muted.” And it looks like Hanks went in that direction. Less is more, right folks?

Captain Phillips is due out in theaters October 11, 2013.


  • Scavenger

    I’m tired of the media spreading the falsehood that the Captain gave himself up as a hostage. Even Phillips confirms that’s not true. Does America need a hero so badly we have to fabricate one? In reality, the Chief and crew saved themselves from being caught and prevented the pirates from kidnapping their ship and sailing it to Somalia. A Hollywood film is bound to be a fictionalized account – but it’s the media’s responsibility to stick by the facts and not veer off into fantasy land.