A Hijacking

Year: 2013
Production Co: Nordisk Film
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Abdihakin Asgar

One of the things A Hijacking keeps reminding you of is the way Hollywood would do the same kind of movie. In fact we're going to see just that later this year when Tom Hanks stars as Captain Phillips (in the movie of the same name), in charge of an American cargo vessel hijacked by Somali pirates.

Captain Phillips is bound to have a dramatic boarding sequence, violence, lots of steely-eyed looks across the sea and some emotional performances.

A Hijacking has none of the above. There isn't even the clear antagonist of a barbarous Somali drug lord sitting in the bridge dispensing orders to underlings and slobbering meat off a hunting knife.

The hijacking victims talk only to Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), claiming he's been appointed the negotiator for the ransom by the band of thugs but not even one of them. He might be one of them. He might even be the leader, and it's all part of the ruse to get the victims and shipping company to play along – we never find out.

Knockabout ship's cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) can't wait to get home to Denmark to his wife and young child after such a long time at sea, but on the way home, they spot speedboats fast approaching.

We cut to the headquarters of the shipping company, where executives including CEO Peter (Søren Malling) learn the ship has stopped midwater and may have been hijacked.

Then we cut back to the stricken ship, where scuzzy Somali robbers with automatic weapons have confined most of the crew belowdecks, with Mikkel, the Captain and several other senior crew locked in an office.

Assisted by a piracy expert who coaches him in his every move, Peter tries to negotiate with the pirates so they can get the crew members home safely, and the drama in A Hijacking isn't really in the threat of violence, it in the delicacy of negotiations with men for whom incarcerating and maybe killing is all part of the transaction.

At times there's not even a real clarity about good versus bad guys. When Mikkel and his friends negotiate more freedom aboard from their captors, there's a scene of them all – pirates included – sitting around drinking, laughing and singing songs, the Somalis just simple minded businessmen after a score but with no ill-feeling toward their hostages.

None of which is to say there's no drama. As the days grind on, Peter plays a delicate dance of contact with Omar, who won't hesitate to use lives as bargaining chips. The conversations over a scratchy international phone line are as tense as the gun in the good guy's face in a Hollywood thriller, and all without histrionics, shouting or gun battles. When violence does appear, it's so quick and shocking and gone so suddenly you'll almost want to rewind to make sure it was really there.

Because the Paul Green-grass-directed Captain Phillips deals with an American ship, this isn't the inevitable Hollywood remake to another well-made foreign movie. But with terrorists becoming yesterday's news and North Korean not quite the bogeyman Washington DC expected yet, Hollywood's going to need a new go-to bad guy. It's probably not the last we've seen of slack-jawed African kids with tatty clothes and menacing guns crawling all over cargo ships.

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