By Don Simpson | June 18, 2013
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Dar Salim, Roland Møller, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakin Asgar, Amalie Ihle Alstrup, Amalie Vulff Andersen, Linda Laursen, Keith Pearson, Allan Arnby, Bettina Schjerlund
By titling this film A Hijacking rather than The Hijacking, the titular event is rendered less significant. This choice begins to make sense as we observe the way that the Danish shipping company handles the negotiations with the Somali pirates. Despite being advised otherwise, Peter (Søren Malling) — the shipping company’s CEO — opts to handle the negotiations on his own. Peter sacrifices his personal life in order to remain at his office 24/7, in case Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) — the pirates’ English-speaking negotiator — attempts to phone or fax him. It seems like an incredibly humanistic move on Peter’s part, to focus so intently upon bringing his ship and its crew back to Copenhagen in one piece; but his intentions are infinitely more selfish. As is revealed earlier in the film, during a negotiation with a Japanese company, Peter sees himself as the only negotiator at his firm able to close difficult deals with tenacious adversaries. Despite the human lives at stake, Peter approaches his communications with the pirates with the same low-balling shrewdness that he utilizes during any other business deal. This is a bullheaded, over-confident man who is so used to closing game-changing deals that he sees no other possible outcome while negotiating the hostage scenario.
As the negotiations drag out, the health conditions and morale on the ship rapidly deteriorate. The captain’s (Keith Pearson) ulcer rears its ugly head and the food rations fade away like the sand in an hourglass. Being stuck inside the hot and claustrophobic ship, the pirates seem just as uncomfortable as the crew. The ship serves as a pressure cooker, breeding a schizophrenic relationship between the two parties who are unable to communicate with each other, except via Omar who is typically reluctant to intervene. They coexist in this high stakes chess match by way of give and take, learning when and how to use each other for their own best interests. The ship’s cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) serves as the key piece for both sides in this game.
By skillfully alternating between the ship and the shipping company, Tobias Lindholm tunes us in to the dangerous game that Peter is naively playing. In a constant struggle to get on the offensive side of the negotiations, Peter must shoulder inhuman levels of stress. His motivation to endure the pressure is Capitalistic in origin, because Peter believes in retaining the money that his corporation has so skillfully earned, not giving it away to lazy foreigners. In the end, this is not about the worth of a ship and its crew, it is about not giving in to the pirates’ demands.
Handheld verite camerawork (Magnus Nordenhof Jønck) allows us to observe the scenarios onboard the ship and inside the Copenhagen headquarters first-hand from the perspectives of Mikkel and Peter, respectively. Like flies on the wall, we are given keen insight into the two disparate and desperate worlds that are totally cut off from each other, except for whatever truths and untruths Peter and Omar choose to share with each other. Lindholm’s cleverly restrained approach to the narrative structure shapes A Hijacking into an undeniably unique thriller that is certain to serve as a mold for a lot of copycats.