By Simon Miraudo
January 20, 2014
Tobias Lindholm‘s Danish drama A Hijacking follows in the footsteps of Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips…. kinda. Well, not technically. Though it’s arriving on our shores in 2014, it was actually released in its native country back in 2012. Still, it’s novel to see the release of two movies about Somali pirates taking over merchant ships in such close proximity. What’s even more novel is that both are really quite good, sparing both from the fate of being remembered as ‘the lesser picture’ in contrast to the other. None will be considered the Volcano to the other’s Dante’s Peak; the K-9 to the other’s Turner and Hooch; the Friends with Benefits to the other’s No Strings Attached; or, most chillingly, the Shark Tale to the other’s Finding Nemo.
Like Captain Phillips, A Hijacking is largely concerned with order and process, though in this case, much of it takes place away from the high seas. The boarding of the central cargo ship occurs off screen; we learn about it at the same time as the shipping-company’s CEO, who is whisked into a boardroom and briefed on pirate protocol. Over the coming months, executive Peter Ludvigsen (played by Soren Malling) negotiates for his crew’s freedom at a glacial pace, bouncing monetary figures back-and-forth with the dubiously “innocent” pirate translator, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). When the ship’s captain falls violently ill, the poor cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), becomes the Somalis’ primary negotiating tool, ordered to beg his boss to pay the money, or suffer a bullet to the head.
Besides the subject matter, the parallels between Lindholm’s sensitive, slow-moving A Hijacking and Paul Greengrass‘ relentless Captain Phillips are few and far between. Lindholm is best known as screenwriter of Danish morality tale The Hunt and hit TV procedural Borgen; not exactly the resume of a budding action auteur. Nonetheless, his film is certainly compelling, aided by its strong performers, and the characters’ strangely banal manner of dealing with a most uncommon scenario.
I will mention one more similarity the feature has to Captain Phillips, however, and that’s the way it examines responsibility; not, in this instance, of a captain, but rather the CEO, who nonetheless has multiple families counting on him (not to mention the shareholders who want to keep the ransom price low and expect the company’s other affairs still be conducted smooth). Those expectations weight heavily on Ludvigsen, and morph into guilt as the months roll on. As tensions run increasingly high over the course of the kidnapping – both on land and at sea – A Hijacking ultimately builds to some truly intense moments that I certainly won’t forget soon.
A Hijacking plays the Perth International Arts Festival from January 20 to February 2, 2014.