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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Hijacking Movie Review

Tobias Lindholm's "A Hijacking" has a very accurate title. It is simply that; a tale of Somali pirates hijacking a Danish cargo ship in the Indian Ocean. It is told in a style more akin to a documentary than a Hollywood thriller. There are no traditional heroes here. There is no uncommon bravery. There are no gut-wrenching scenes of the families of the hostages living in horror and anticipation. Lindholm focuses on the interaction between the pirates and their hostages and the leader of the corporation trying to figure out how to negotiate the release of his employees. The hand-held cameras help create the atmosphere of chaos on the ship.

There are three central characters. Mikkel Hartmann (Johan Philip Asbæek) is the cook on the ship and he becomes the liaison between Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the spokesman for the pirates, and Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), the head of the shipping line. Each man in this chain is a complex character, especially Omar.

When the Somali pirates first take over the ship, Omar emerges as something unexpected. Rather than being a barbarian, he speaks calmly and intelligently and it is quickly established that this is more of a business transaction than one might expect. Don't misunderstand, the other pirates are fierce enough, but they are taking their cues from Omar, who is an employee rather than a leader. We are not sure who he is working for but we do know that he is here to get his slice of the pie.

Mikkel is the ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He is neither heroic nor cowardly. He behaves as you might expect that you would behave. He follows the orders of the pirates, cooking for them, and at times almost sympathizing with them in some small way. In one scene, all of the crew and pirates eat, drink, and sing together. It feels odd, yet very real. We wonder how it will turn out, especially for Mikkel.

Ludvigsen is the cool captain of industry who refuses to let a professional negotiator handle the talks with the pirates, specifically Omar. He has a professional negotiator at his side throughout, though. Ludvigsen has the double task of viewing everything through the eyes of someone who wants to save his crew and he also seems to slightly enjoy the cat-and-mouse game of negotiating at a level that even he has never navigated.

Lindholm does an excellent job of creating very real tension by never going over-the-top and never letting it feel like a soap opera filled with superhuman efforts by his main characters. My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that by so often underplaying the events, at times there is a bit of drag where nothing much happens. We understand that that is the reality of a situation like this, so it is easy to forgive him this minor failing. It is definitely worth seeing just for being a unique and realistic take on a harrowing situation. There are no tremendous highs or tremendous lows. It's a slow boil without the anticipated crescendo. It's just good storytelling and good filmmaking. That's enough for me.

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