Review: A Hijacking

Danish cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) looks out over uncharted waters
Danish cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) looks out over uncharted waters

A Hijacking is written and directed by Tobias Lindholmthe man who previously served as scribe for the TV series Borgen and, more notably, the celebrated small town drama The Hunt starring Mads Mikkelsen. Here he takes control behind the camera as well to bring us the tense tale of Somalian pirates hijacking a cargo vessel and the negotiations that take place to secure the crew’s safety – for the best possible price of course.

Anyone out there expecting this to turn into a moody Danish version of Under Siege would do well to consider Lindholm’s previous form. Much like the Somalian pirates, Lindholm is not concerned with getting things done quickly. Adrenaline junkies will be crestfallen to learn that nothing blows up here. If they turn away, however, it’ll be their loss. Because A Hijacking is compulsive viewing, albeit in an entirely different, more insidious way.

Lindholm’s efforts to present this story as the real deal – which is readily believable as true, and inspired by documented events – is impressively conveyed with the documentary-style filming. Which is not to say that A Hijacking plays out like some amateur found-footage orgy of shaky cams and frantic sweep pans. Lindholm’s film is eerily calm at times, quietly taking in the events like some spectral bystander refusing to take sides. It is ruthlessly lean also, demystifying the idea of modern pirates as anything exotic with sequences preoccupied with the squalor of inadequate plumbing facilities or the tedium of waiting for a fax to come through. The corporate headquarters where the negotiating is done are expertly rendered as incredibly bland spaces. Much of the action at home takes place in a cramped conference room with a flip-chart and a whiteboard.

Humanising events at sea, Lindholm charts the emotional through-line of one of the prisoners – Mikkel the ship’s cook. What at first seems like the worst kind of inconvenience slowly transforms into something painfully protracted and gruelling. Expertly played by Pilou Asbæk, Mikkel’s descent into perpetual trauma is shatteringly convincing. The emotional grind of an experience like this which just goes on and on and on is evoked with surprising economy.

In the boardroom, we follow Søren Malling as CEO Peter Ludvigsen; a square-jawed negotiator during normal business hours who is flummoxed by the pressures of dealing with the Somalian extortionists. His pained efforts to remain emotionless during such a long, drawn-out and high-stakes gambit feel entirely human, even as the audience feels compelled to scream at the suits to give up the cash and save their poor employees.

And whilst Lindholm’s film doesn’t make any direct statements condemning the corporation for being frugal with men’s lives, it’s hard not to read something into the film’s final shot, which lingers on Peter’s luxurious company car exiting the corporation’s parking garage. The realities of the situation are also made painfully clear – give in and it’ll open the floodgates for repeat offenders. It’d be open season on the Western freight business. But where do you draw the line and who, ultimately, pays the highest price?

A Hijacking does not railroad a particular viewpoint. This is first and foremost a commendable attempt to stage a suspense thriller with a sense of meat-and-potatoes authenticity. As such it is something of a slow build, and for the opening 20-30 minutes or so I found myself struggling to particularly care or get invested in the situation. However, there is some classic dramatic tension at work here, as the movie deftly draws the viewer into it’s hard battle, and by the time it’s milking the life-or-death frustrations of intermittent phone service I knew it had me hooked. With Mikkels and Peter serving as sturdy anchors for events on and off the cargo ship, the film finds a deliberate, measured and compelling pace which it sticks to right ’til the bitter end.

Lindholm’s film, whilst impressive, falls oddly short of feeling exceptional. But his decision to take a story which the Hollywood studios would have presented as hackneyed chamber-emptying gratuity – probably with Vin Diesel – and force it through the meat grinder of the police procedural is a respectable one, and the results are strong, occasionally electric.

Score:  3.5

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