The Danish film A Hijacking is a well-acted, understated thriller about a freighter hijacked by Somali pirates who hold the ship and crew of seven for ransom. In the hands of an American filmmaker, you’d expect a series of bloody action sequences and men driven beyond endurance shouting into telephones. Instead, A Hijacking plays down just about every showy, terrifying aspect of the ordeal and concentrates instead on the mind games between the company CEO Peter (Soren Malling), who is hoping to negotiate his crew’s freedom without loss of life (or overpaying); Omar the interpreter (Abdihakin Asgar), who claims he’s not a pirate but clearly has some sort of deal worked out with the attackers; and Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), a frightened cook who just wants to get home to his wife and daughter.
Restraint is welcome, especially in the dog days of a summer that brings us the explosive excess of White House Down and the upcoming Pacific Rim, but A Hijacking may be too laid back for its own good. Too many scenes are shot in offices, and too many of them aren’t particularly tense. The movie doesn’t even show the initial moments of the assault on the ship. Peter learns something’s wrong when he’s told the captain is incommunicado, and the film swoops back to the ship, where the crew cowers on the floor as the attackers brandish weapons. The omission seems a missed opportunity, especially since most of the audience probably doesn’t know how men in small boats wrest control of a much larger vessel.
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Still, A Hijacking examines the phenomenon of modern-day pirating from an interesting perspective, that of the negotiators. These days hijacking is practically a business; companies hire consultants to guide them when ships are taken. Peter’s consultant tells him an outsider should do the negotiating, but Peter, used to hashing out his company’s most important deals, insists on doing the job himself. “It’s my ship. It’s my crew. It’s my job,” he says. He’s warned to stay unemotional, and he tries. But who wouldn’t grow frustrated when no headway is made and so much is at stake?
As the days wind on and no agreement is met, the film focuses equally on the stress Peter faces and the growing frustration and fear of Mikkel, who not only worries for his own discomfort but also the life of the sick captain. Director Tobias Lindholm is restrained here, too, blessedly: No noble suffering for this captain, just a bad ulcer that weakens him.
The best scenes, of course, are all aboard the ship. In one of the best, Mikkel and a crewmate are finally allowed up on deck for fresh air, and they decide to fish (the rations are waning). A sudden camaraderie washes over all the men. They laugh and cheer and sing together, but cold, hard truths are soon revealed. The crew may think they have more in common with their abductors than the rich, powerful men back home, but they’re mistaken. A Hijacking is not quite as exciting as it should be, but its realistic examination of grit and folly are still more intriguing than swaggering action movie heroics.
Cast: Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Dar Salim, Abdihakin Asgar.
Writer/director: Tobias Lindholm.
Producers: Rene Ezra, Tomas Radoor.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time: 103 minutes. Language. In Danish, Swedish and English with English subtitles. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Cosford, O Cinema.