It is an odd thing when you connect two films that thematically couldn’t be more different yet share a similar set-up. There was a moment about 15 minutes into A Hijacking where I emitted a guffaw that was probably inappropriate. It wasn’t a laugh derived from a line of dialogue from this sombre film. As I watched a group of men with machine guns hijack a ship and then use the main protagonist (the ships cook) to start negotiations I got déjà vu. This seemed to be in relative terms the plot for Under Siege. I imagined this film with Steven Seagal speaking Danish. It was this mental image that caused the laughter. But this is European cinema and not Hollywood, thankfully. The story is king and not the spectacle (although let me go on record and say I love Under Siege). So banishing Hollywood from my mind I settled in to watch this quietly gripping film.”
A Hijacking tells the story of a ship that is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The eight crew members are split up with the highly prized westerners (white) being kept in slightly better conditions. The main focus is on the ships cook Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbaek, superb) who the pirates use to put the pressure on his boss, Peter Ludvigsen (the CEO of the firm that owns the ship) to pay the money. Peter calls in an expert to help deal with the crisis. The expert recommends playing hardball in negotiations so the scene is set for a protracted battle of nerves as days turn into months.
A Hijacking asks some genuinely interesting questions about the value placed on a human life. It is asked of the company regarding how much they are willing to pay to free the hostages. It also reverberates throughout the attitudes of the pirates who view the western men as much more valuable than their ‘foreign’ co-workers. But the pirates themselves are a faceless group. No attempt is made to explore their motives. It is clear that they are doing it for money but is it for them or is there a controlling force behind them? It is an area that I would like to have seen more developed. It is touched upon briefly with the appearance of the negotiator for the pirates. He does not consider himself one of them and gets angry at anyone who suggests otherwise. If that is the case who does he work for? It would have been fascinating to find out.
The structure of the film is fascinating and a little risky. The film moves between the office of the company in Denmark and the boat itself. Interestingly the hijacking itself is not shown with just the aftermath taking place on screen. It also stays with either the office or the ship during the negotiations refusing to ease the tension by cutting to the other location to see what is happening. Any time the camera stays on the office the tension increases as we can imagine what is happening on the other end of the line. This also serves to heighten and compare the conditions. In the office in Denmark the rooms are ordered, and clean, and it then contrasted with the hostages on the boat in their filthy room emptying out buckets used as makeshift toilets. The clothing is used this way as well with a clean, nicely pressed shirt never far away in the CEO’s office. But Mikkel and company are in the same dirty rags for months.
A Hijacking is a terrific film. Directly by Tobias Lindholm (writer of last year’s excellent The Hunt and Borgen) with an almost documentary feel, it is a world away from the histrionic Hollywood thriller. The acting is very good and naturalistic from all concerned with particular mention for Asbaek and Soren Malling as Peter Ludvigsen the CEO and hostage negotiator. By turns thought provoking, harrowing and moving A Hijacking lingers long in the mind for quite a bit of time after the credits roll.