Movie Review: “A Hijacking”
Rating: R (Language)
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Directed by: Tobias Lindholm
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
One of the most alarming nightmares of the modern world is to be out, minding your own business, and suddenly be seized by unintelligible violent maniacs whose motives are unknown and whose methods are violent in the extreme. Even worse is to imagine that the kidnappers want a hefty ransom, only to have the negotiations break down because they’ve demanded the money from a corporate CEO, one who now has to decide how valuable his employees really are.
This nightmare actually has played out in real life on scores of occasions. One of the more colorful anachronisms of the last decade has been the resurgence of piracy around the Horn of Africa. Short of a dirigible war or a sudden outbreak of smallpox, it’s difficult to imagine a more outdated threat than to see a swarm of scurvy dogs swarm over the gunwales and demand booty. Yet happen it does, and for several years, it’s been serious business in the waters of the Indian Ocean. “A Hijacking” is a tense thriller built around the very real modus operandi of the modern pirate scourge.
In the film, the crew of a Danish cargo ship finds itself taken hostage by Somali pirates who demand a ransom of millions from the government and company officials in Copenhagen. As the negotiations drag on, the pirates become more desperate and dangerous. Meanwhile, aboard ship, two members of the crew, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) and Peter (Søren Malling), struggle to survive the deadly encounter in the lawless environment of the open ocean.
The screenplay for “A Hijacking” is tightly written and manages to convey bowstring-taut tension with something as simple as stage direction. The lines, though translated, flow naturally from the characters in such a way that the audience is left with the feeling that yes, that is what this character would say in this situation. The personalities depicted in “A Hijacking” feel real and fit together brilliantly over the arc of the film’s plot.
The cast of “A Hijacking” acted out that script with passion and a deep understanding that transcends the language barrier. With a single gesture, Pilou Asbæk makes his viewers feel the despair of not only being lost at sea, but of being cast adrift in every sense: by his captain, his employer, and his own government back home. He’s utterly alone out there, and he’s going to project that from the screen with intensity and fervor. Dar Salim brings a sublime evil to his role as the heavy in this picture. As befits the former Qotho from “Game of Thrones,” his presence on the screen is dark and brooding, punctuated by bouts of explosive anger so real that the sweat stands out and audience members flinch.
Tobias Lindholm handled much of the heavy lifting for this film as both the writer and director. A seasoned veteran of many productions, Lindholm has the experience as an actor to understand the performances he’s called upon to evoke from his actors. As the screenwriter, Lindholm owned this project in a way that few directors ever manage. That advantage comes through in myriad ways, but never more clearly than in the way each shot of the movie seems to be layered with meaning, as if Lindholm the writer had an entire world in mind that Lindholm the director can only imperfectly translate to the big screen.
Also of note in this film are what are often thought of as “secondary” elements. The lighting was exquisitely balanced to set just the right mood from one shot to the next. The establishing scenes of the crew make an audience member feel the ordinary hardship of their lives, the cold grit of the on-ship action scenes leave you frozen and dripping with brine. In contrast, the scenes set in the remote capital of Copenhagen are lit so as to be warm and safe, thus driving home the contrast between the men of the MV Rozen and those who are responsible for bartering with their lives.
“A Hijacking” was almost entirely a Danish project from the beginning. Unlike the case with many foreign films, however, the tight action sequences and smartly written script have broken out of their native Denmark to achieve wide acclaim as a stirring tale of high seas adventure, taut political action, and the very real human story of ordinary men cast adrift at sea to seek their fortunes. There could hardly be a more fitting metaphor for the state of the world “A Hijacking” depicts.