Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Review: A Hijacking

A Hijacking
Directed by: Tobias Lindholm.
Written by: Tobias Lindholm.
Starring: Pilou Asbæk (Mikkel Hartmann), Søren Malling (Peter C. Ludvigsen), Dar Salim (Lars Vestergaard), Roland Møller (Jan Sørensen), Gary Skjoldmose Porter (Connor Julian), Abdihakin Asgar (Omar), Amalie Ihle Alstrup (Maria Hartmann), Amalie Vulff Andersen (Kamilla Hartmann), Linda Laursen (Anette Ludvigsen), Allan Arnby (Niels Giversen), Bettina Schjerlund (Jytte).

The Danish film A Hijacking is the antithesis of a Hollywood thriller. You would think a movie about Somali pirates taking over a European ship, and holding the crew hostage for months on end as they go through negotiations to let them go would give the filmmakers a chance for rapid pacing editing, and action sequences – where eventually the brave crew would overthrow their captors led by someone like Harrison Ford. Perhaps Paul Greengrass’ upcoming film Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks will be that film. Hell, that film may end up better than A Hijacking for all I know. But I don’t think it is possible to make it more realistic than this film. This is a film not about heroics, but about tedium and the long, slow, steady progress of negotiations. What is amazing about the film is just how intense writer-director Tobias Lindholm makes it.

The film opens and we are quickly introduced to who will become the two main characters in the movie. Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) is the seemingly happy cook on board the Danish cargo ship Rozen. We first meet him calling home to his wife to tell him he’ll arrive home two days later than he initially thought he would. He’s upset by this – but not nearly as upset as she is. He wants to be home to be with his wife and daughter, but after months at sea, what’s another two days?

The other character is Peter (Søren Malling), the CEO of the company that Mikkel works for. We first meet him taking over a negotiation with a Japanese firm, where he’s able to get the deal he wants for millions less than the Japanese wanted – and then he promptly dresses down an employee who wasn’t able to do the same thing without his help. Peter is rich, smart and a master negotiator – and clearly relishes his role.

Interestingly, we are with Peter and not Mikkel when the pirates take over the Rozen, and do not actually see them storm the ship or take over. Over the course of the movie, none of the pirates will become a character – we don’t even know their names – except for Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), who gets offended during the intense negotiations via satellite phone when Peter refers to him as a pirate. He’s not one of them he says – he’s just their translator and negotiator.

The heart of the movie is made up of two types of scenes – the negotiations between Peter and Omar, and scenes of life on board the ship. For the most part, during the negotiations, we stay in the sterile boardroom with Peter and his team – including a hostage specialist they bring in – which looks like any old boring office boardroom. These scenes are remarkable intense, because they have a ring of authenticity to them – from the room itself, to the way Peter conducts the negotiations, starting out like we saw him with the Japanese, and slowly becoming more angry – to the echo of the phone itself. The negotiations take a long time – the pirates want $15 million, and Peter starts with an offer of $150,000, so you know they will.

The scenes on the boat are just as realistic as conditions slowly deteriorate. The crew starts to go stir crazy, starts to get sick as they are locked in a room together where they eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. There are few moments of joy, and although the pirates don’t physically abuse the crew, as they grow more frustrated, the crew has it harder and harder. These scenes focus on Mikkel, as he struggles to hold onto his sanity.

A Hijacking never hits a false note. Everything in the film feels authentic – from Lindholm documentary style direction, to the performances – particularly by Malling and Asbæk. Hollywood style thrillers are a dime a dozen, but a film like A Hijacking, which goes for, and achieves realism, is much harder to pull off.

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