Tuesday, June 25, 2013
In the Indian Ocean, Somali pirates overrun a cargo ship a couple of scant days from harbor .
Against the advice of outside counsel, Peter Ludvigsen, the CEO of the Danish shipping line (Soren Malling) decides that he will negotiate personally with the pirates' liaison, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). Thus does director Tobias Lindholm set the stage for "A Hijacking," a surprisingly gripping thriller and a rare case of a fiction film telling the same story better than a documentary (the recent "Stolen Seas" reported on the same incident).
What makes "A Hijacking" more effective is that Lindholm alternates between the boardroom, site of the protracted (months-long) negotiations, and the ship itself, where he depicts the devolving situation through the eyes of the cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk). The pirates separate Mikkel, the captain and the engineer from the rest of the crew. They often position their guns up against their captives' necks. They force the men to urinate and defecate in a confined space. Omar compels Mikkel to call Peter, and later his wife, and beg the company to pay the ransom. He plays Mikkel's fears and hopes like an instrument, at times allowing him special privileges (some rare fresh air, even the chance to do a little fishing), at other times browbeating him into cowering incoherence. It's this onboard living hell that was missing from the documentary.
To be fair, "Stolen Seas" did some things better than "A Hijacking" as well. It explained the concept of "proof of life" - that the balloon money drop doesn't happen until a helicopter flies by and confirms that none of the hostages have been killed - which this film skims past. And the setup of "A Hijacking" begs some questions the film never adverts to, including how a dramatic development very late in the story could be allowed to happen. For most of its 103 minutes, though, "A Hijacking" - with terrific lead performances by the teddy-bearish Asbæk and the lean, wiry Malling - holds you rapt in its thrall.