A HIJACKING (2013, Denmark)
SUNDAY 20 July 10.00 am
TUESDAY 22 July 8.15 pm
RUNNING TIME 99 minutes
The hijacking of a Danish ship en route to Mumbai by Somali pirates provides a tense study of threat, deprivation and negotiation. The narrative alternates between the head office of the shipping company in Copenhagen and the situation on board where deteriorating conditions take their toll.
REVIEW BY A. O SCOTT
In A Hijacking, his assured, intense second feature, the Danish director Tobias Lindholm turns tedium and frustration into agonizing suspense. Unfolding over a span of weary, stressful months, its action mainly confined to the below-deck parts of a cargo ship and a suite of sterile corporate offices in Denmark, the film is at once a probing psychological case study and a ripped-from-the-headlines exploration of modern sea piracy.
The seizure of the ship, the Rozen, by Somali pirates jolts a company executive, Peter C. Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), out of his master-of-the-universe routine. A dapper, controlled boss, Peter clearly relishes his ability to project steely confidence in times of crisis. While he hardly welcomes the taking of his ship, he is sure that he can deal with the situation, and the transition to crisis mode represents a change of pace from the deal-making and browbeating of an underling (Dar Salim) that usually occupies his time.
But meetings with an American consultant (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) and initial negotiations by satellite phone with Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the pirates’ “translator,” who channels messages from unseen leaders, suggest that a quick and clean resolution is unlikely. Peter becomes something of a hostage in his workplace, rarely going home (never, as far as the audience can see) and succumbing to uncharacteristic displays of temper and uncertainty. Although the pirates’ goals are strictly mercenary, you can almost imagine that humiliating this smug capitalist is their real intention.
Perhaps it is, but Mr. Lindholm leaves the geopolitics of their actions in the background. With the exception of Omar, the hijackers are undifferentiated, almost spectral figures, whose language and behaviour baffle and terrify the crew. A different kind of film would have ventured beyond the perceptions of the European characters and offered at least a speculative glimpse into the world of their captors.
Aboard the Rozen, the camera’s attention is focused on the cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), a friendly, shaggy fellow who could not be more unlike his boss back home. In a sense, the two of them suffer the ordeal of captivity together, though the stakes are starkly different. For Peter, the fate of his ship is a financial calculation and a matter of corporate honour. He is advised to take a hard line and wait out his adversaries, because making their crime too easy or lucrative will only encourage others. But the lives of Mikkel and the other crew members are in play, and to them the delay seems cruel and senseless.
Mr. Lindholm tells this story with an objectivity that sometimes feels cold but that also gives A Hijacking dramatic credibility. Its power accumulates slowly and subtly, with the threat of violence hanging in the air and the hope of a solution hovering just over the horizon.
REVIEW BY PAUL BYRNES
As with sculpture, a movie is what is left when you take away everything that is not the movie, but different cultures have different ideas about this.
Audiences will soon be able to compare a British-American version of the hijacking of a ship by Somali pirates (in Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks) with this severe and uncompromising Danish version of a similar story. I haven't seen the Hanks film, but I am confident that it won't be an exercise in minimalism. Greengrass is famous for excessive use of hand-held camera. Much of A Hijacking is also shot with unsteady cam, trying to emulate the look of documentary, but Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm takes a typically northern European approach to what he can leave out. He doesn't actually show the Somali pirates storming the ship, which is almost perverse.
He gives us a few scenes to establish that it has a small international crew. The burly captain (Keith Pearson) sounds like he might be British, and the cheerful Danish cook, Mickell (Pilou Asbaek), is looking forward to reaching Mumbai, so he can fly home to his wife and daughter.
In Copenhagen, the chief executive of the shipping company, Peter Hudvigsen (Soren Malling), shows his uncompromising skills as a negotiator in a meeting with Japanese shipbuilders. They want $19 million, but they walk out with $14.5 million. Hudvigsen is feeling good when an assistant interrupts with the news: one of their ships appears to have been taken by pirates in the Indian Ocean. The company calls in a crisis manager, Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), who advises Hudvigsen to hire a negotiator. He is incensed: ''This feels like you are trying to replace me. This is my company. My ship, my crew, my job to bring back my men.'' That's as close as the film gets to a Hollywood action movie line, but it's delivered quietly, with restraint.
The film is slow at first, matching the waiting game. A week goes by before the Somalis make a ransom demand. Their ''translator'' Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) finally tells Hudvigsen they want $15 million. From here on, the movie is all about price and tactics. How much are seven crew members worth to the company? The crisis manager warns them not to make a high offer. If you are too quick to pay, they will see it as a down payment, he says. Hudvigsen offers them $250,000.
Lindholm gives us very little information about the crew members, except for Mikkel. He gives us no information about the Somalis, no translation even of their dialogue. He's not interested in why they are there, what kind of men they are. He keeps our point of view rigorously focused on the crew, to whom they are simply men with guns. I think that's exactly how you would feel in this situation. Pop psychology isn't much use. Nor does he allow the entry of outside pressure in the Danish scenes. There's only one mention of the press, and none at all of what the government might be doing behind the scenes.
The longer the film goes, the better it gets. The slow build-up of tension is uncomfortable and relentless. There are only two main locations: a couple of rooms on the ship, and the negotiating room back in Copenhagen. The sense of deprivation pervades both.
We never see Hudvigsen leave the office as the siege passes through 50, then 100 days. The Somalis veer between kindness and cruelty, with Omar as the arch manipulator, allowing crew members to make phone calls to their families in order to increase pressure on the company.
Lindholm has made one other feature, called R. He has come through the ranks of directors influenced by Dogme, the short-lived Danish reform agenda pushed by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Lindholm wrote the script for Vinterberg's The Hunt.
A Hijacking achieves considerable power by avoiding the obvious, and staying close to its characters. It's a credible explanation of the commercial side of terror and the diabolical weirdness of the modern world.