Review: 'A Hijacking'

Captain Jack Sparrow, they are not.

The pirates you see – but never really meet – in Tobias Lindholm's gut-churning film “A Hijacking” are not fun. They are all business, maybe some of them are evil, or others are just pawns. There's no shortage of gray area and, to the film's credit, there is plenty of space in which to examine the film, looking for answers. “A Hijacking” isn't boring, but it is not an adventure film – it is a frustratingly realistic take on the unfortunate modern threat of piracy, and a bit of an emotional workout.

We open with some unsubtle scenes of Johan Philip Asbæk as Mikkel, the cook on a Danish commercial ship. He's got a bit of a Shaggy from “Scooby-Doo” thing going, and he's on the satellite phone to his wife and kids. He's a nice guy! I hope nothing happens to him.

Once we meet Mikkel we cut to the interior of a luxury sedan. At the wheel, the sharply dressed Søren Malling as Peter, the CEO of the shipping concern that owns Mikkel's boat. After witnessing him work negotiating magic in the boardroom (then sternly but politely dress-down an underling for not asking for his help earlier) he gets the news. One of his ships has been hijacked.

The set-up is clear and perfect – the absolute top and bottom of the totem pole. How will the events of the titular hijacking effect them both?

Well, nobody comes out of a situation like this entirely unscathed, but it reminds me of one of my favorite old jokes my friend's grandfather used to say. With his thick Eastern European accent he'd offer “Listen – I've been rich and miserable, and I've been poor and miserable. And I can tell you – rich is better.”

On Mikkel's end it is pure PsyOps. He and two others are separated from the rest of the crew and kept in a fly-ridden, blazing-hot room (you can hear the vinyl cushions stick to their skin.) They are forced to relieve themselves in the corner. As the cook, Mikkel is gets pulled out to serve meals, and he ends up being chosen to speak to the company back home.

Guiding him is Omar, an enigmatic, bilingual man who is quick to remind everyone that he isn't a pirate, just a negotiator, and he wants to go home, too. Whether or not this is true is never revealed.

Back on land (and in sterile, harshly lit offices) Peter has recruited a British specialist to help him with negotiations. The very first thing he does is ignore him, and demand to speak on the phone himself. It's hard to say if this is out of some sort of machismo or intense guilt. It's also unsure if he keeps lowballing Omar because he is a skinflint or because this is the only way to ensure the safety of his crew.

With this set-up in play you now expect the fireworks to happen. And that's when the movie starts to move to the beat of its own, weird drum. Nothing happens. Well, nothing plot-heavy happens. The gears move really slowly with this sort of thing, and hours quickly turn to days and days to weeks. Our characters on both ends of the phone become more frazzled, and we in the audience just get more and more queasy.

Through it all, Lindholm keeps his eye focused. The office scenes grow sickening with their harsh fluorescent lights. On the boat, Mikkel and his comrades try to connect with their captors in some way. A round of bored drunkenness seems to break the ice, but no true bonds are formed. It's as if they are begging for Stockholm Syndrome. You know something bad is going to happen, but you don't quite know what or when.

“A Hijacking” has an extremely gratifying ending in that it is dramatic but also stays true to the very dead-pan, naturalist style of the entire film. There's no geo-political finger-pointing, or even much class warfare beyond the obvious. It flatly lays out what would happen in a situation like this, who would be affected and how. Not a fun boat trip to take, but as an exercise in situational filmmaking it is a recommended one.

SCORE: 8.0 / 10