A Hijacking Review – Holy Ship!

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Writer: Tobias Lindholm

Stars: Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Dar Salim, Roland Moller

Release date: September 20th, 2014

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Country: Denmark

Running time: 99 minutes



Best part: The intensifying hostage negotiations.

Worst part: The two-dimensional pirate characters.

Our world is chock-a-block with protagonists and antagonists. Serving specific purposes and motivations, both ‘groups’ fight to stay alive. Despite the unique perspectives, all political, social, and cultural groups believe wholeheartedly in their grand visions. Despite their allegiances, actions, and reactions, every soldier, terrorist, politician etc. is a human being. Following similar biological and cognitive functions as everyone else, we each inhabit this world for all-important reasons. These facts and beliefs, to me, sum up several of this-and-last-years’ Oscar contenders, well-crafted crime-thrillers, and intense docudramas. With Hollywood painting black-and-white strokes about particular factions, races, and classes, other film societies intently delve into other narratives, perspectives, and opinions. When comparing Captain Phillips and A Hijacking (Kapringen), these points become painfully relevant.

Johan Phillip Asbaek.

With Hollywood’s immense power producing larger-than-life thrills and escapist fare, foreign film industries put every dollar into filmmaking’s most important intricacies. This may seem one-sided, but it’s true. A Hijacking, forming an inventive and exasperating identity despite its distribution dilemmas, is a confronting, methodical, and powerful docudrama. Despite the movie’s ugliness and intelligence, its realism elevates it above other, more prominent, docudramas. Here, we follow multiple perspectives trudging through the same nightmarish ordeal. On Danish cargo ship MV Rozen, Cheerful and optimistic cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek) calls his wife and young child. Laughing and arguing over the phone, Mikkel’s life appears fruitful. En route to India, the ship’s arduous journey is almost complete. Whilst passing by Africa, Somali Pirates hijack the ship. Threatening their captives with machine guns, the pirates seize control with vast monetary gain in sight. This arduous ordeal, defined by the crews’ extraneous living conditions, becomes a hellish and disastrous experience. With the ship’s captain (Keith Pearson) falling ill, Mikkel and Jan (Roland Moller) must stick together to survive. With pirate crew translator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) keeping this situation under control, this hostage crisis may never reach a successful conclusion. Meanwhile, back in Copenhagen, the shipping company’s CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), before learning about the hostage crisis, runs this prestigious corporation like, ahem, a well-oiled ship. Sealing high-priced deals with other big-name companies, Peter is a multi-talented and straight-laced professional. After addressing the captives’ families about the ongoing situation, Peter hires a well-known hostage crisis manager (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) to help solve this all-important crisis. Volunteering to communicate with the pirates, Peter becomes intellectually and emotionally invested in this ordeal. The situation pushes Peter to breaking point as allegiances, reputations, and personalities are tested on both sides of the globe.

Soren Malling.

Blurring the valuable line between fiction and reality, A Hijacking is a sincere and intense surprise. Hidden by this year’s Oscar heavyweights, this intense docudrama is devoid of climactic and electrifying Hollywood blockbuster tropes and manipulative docudrama cliches. Despite the all-important subject matter, verisimilitude, and appropriate earnestness, these movies sport several overwhelming and profound differences. In comparing these movies, it’s tempting to explore Hollywood and foreign film industries’ vast and intriguing differences. Obviously, budget, scope, purpose, and stylistic choices separate these wholly separated realms. This subject matter captures political and societal attention. Both movies compare and contrast everything within each frame. However, this Danish production is a meticulous and purposeful drama-thriller. Peeling back visceral and politically dense layers, the movie focuses on the topic’s most emotionally gripping, fastidious, and polarising aspects. Captain Phillips, though relentless and confronting, is a bigger, bolder, and brasher movie than A Hijacking aspires to be. With a thundering score, slight patriotic streak, and kinetic action sequences, Paul Greengrass’ feature is an appealing and punchy action-thriller. Here, the laboured pacing and documentary-like visuals serve a specific and confronting purpose. The deliberate length and tempo establishes this situation’s most heartening and slight aspects. Writer-director Tobias Lindholm (R, co-writer of The Hunt) is one of Europe’s most alluring and thought-provoking writer-directors. Taking on discomforting and gutsy material, his style and intentions are remarkably insistent and original. Here, Lindholm explains certain details whilst keeping the audience at a distance. Jumping between opposing story-lines, Lindholm refuses to display the narrative’s most important moments. The hijacking itself is brushed over via dialogue and sharp editing. Thanks to Linholm’s efficient story-telling motifs, we are exposed to this crisis’ more humanistic and methodical elements.   

“We can’t rush these people. Time is a Western thing. It means nothing to them.” (Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), A Hijacking).

The hostages.

The narrative’s all-encompassing plot-threads and Lindholm’s systematic style wholeheartedly establish his ordeal’s immense length. Covered in dust, sweat, and decayed clothing, the crew-members and pirates, despite the opposing ideologies, become trapped in this nightmarish setting. Startlingly, this situation highlights social, cultural, and political divides unlike other recent docudramas. This authentic, meaningful, and in-depth docudrama is boosted by Lindolm’s attention to detail. In this Hollywood-obsessed universe, movies like A Hijacking become effective and ingenious surprises. Avoiding explosive action, chokingly tight jump-scares, and gratuitous messages, this movie’s subtle and deft style develops an enthralling and richly textured drama-thriller. Here, we witness determined characters undertaking realistic actions. On the ship, Mikkel and Jan never become John-McClane-type action heroes. In fact, the white characters don’t devise plans rebel and violently recover the ship. In doing so, these characters battle wavering emotions, disease, dwindling supplies, and tempers throughout their 134-day ordeal. Befriending certain pirates via singing, fishing, humour, temptations, and commercialism, Mikkel and Jan embody the movie’s seminal messages. Here, the Western world becomes a looming presence over this harrowing situation. Peter’s towering corporation steadily transitions from money-powered saviour to greedy conglomerate. Throughout this punishing docudrama, the scrupulous negotiations extend this ordeal beyond comprehension. This slow-burn thriller is boosted by its over-the-phone negotiation sequences. With several fat-cat executives watching on, Peter leans forward intently whilst talking to Omar. With the ransom drastically shifting, the divide between the company’s low-level employees and high-minded executives becomes increasingly noticeable. These scenes never cut back-and-forth between both parties. Peter and co’s facial expressions and mannerisms illuminate certain scenes’ overwhelming potency. 

Though comparable to recently released big-budget counterpart Captain Phillips, A Hijacking forms its own unique and enrapturing identity. With tensions, ideologies, and allegiances slowly simmering, Lindholm’s attention to detail and intensifying direction highlights this subject matter’s immense political and social relevance. With believable characterisations and starting authenticity, this nightmarish ordeal solidifies this emotionally powerful and confronting cinematic experience.

Verdict: An intensifying and methodical drama-thriller. 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Review – Kenneth’s Clusterf*ck!

Director: Kenneth Branagh                        

Writers: Adam Cozard, David Koepp (screenplay), Tom Clancy (series)

Stars: Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley      

Release date: January 17th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes



Best part: The dynamic performances.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.         

By rebooting the ever-engaging and eternally popular Jack Ryan series, Paramount Pictures, obviously, has all-eyes on the potentially gargantuan rewards. With an intriguing spy-action premise, cracking cast, effective marketing, and franchise-level reputations to uphold, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit contained the perfect ingredients for a kick-ass reboot. After all, action movies usually obtain hefty profits and franchise-boosting opportunities. This is Hollywood – where uninspired, critically lambasted action movies receive sequels, prequels, and reboots thanks to overwhelming commercial success. Unfortunately, Shadow Recruit, though enjoyable, is another forgettable spy-action flick with healthy box-office returns in sight. Despite the positive elements, this instalment becomes an irritating, confused, and uninteresting action-thriller.

Chris Pine.

Despite the deceptive marketing campaign, Shadow Recruit had the potential to be a lively and eclectic reboot. As is Hollywood’s ravenous nature, reboots are, essentially, designed to remove debilitating/franchise-killing cells whilst injecting an electrifying cure into a near-lifeless corpse. Admittedly, this drastic studio-executive/focus-group driven methodology has re-configured and enhanced several big-budget franchises. Given a high-tech facelift and energising boost, this action-thriller franchise, once again, comes out swinging. Despite my analogies and comparisons’ bizarreness, these comments are somewhat accurate. The reboot presents one of pop-culture’s most celebrated and cunning super-spies’ origins. Here, the story dodges the previous instalments whilst acknowledging their significant entertainment value. This instalment kicks off in 2001, with an adolescent Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) studying in London. Following loud footsteps and chatter, Ryan dashes to the nearest TV. He watches on in horror as two planes crash into the World Trade Centre. Fuelled by patriotism and pragmatism, Ryan joins the US Military in 2003. Serving in Afghanistan, Ryan proves, to his comrades and himself, that he belongs in active duty. Ryan, quickly becoming a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant, suffers horrific injuries when his helicopter is shot down over mountainous regions. Recovering from his debilitating injuries, with physiotherapy and medical student Cathy Muller(Keira Knightley)’s assistance, Ryan is determined to head back into military service. However, CIA agent Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) has other ideas. Luring Ryan into CIA operations, Harper believes that terrorist cells are using stock exchanges to transfer vast sums. Sent into the New York Stock Exchange undercover, Ryan ably investigates the system to uncover suspicious activity.

Kevin Costner.

Unlike Hanna and The American, this spy-actioner doesn’t strive for originality, charm, grit, or ambition. To continue on, I’ll stress that the plot, as time passes, becomes considerably more convoluted and uninteresting. Ryan is then sent to Moscow to meet with Russian businessperson and playboy Viktor Cheverin (Kenneth Branagh). With Ryan and Cathy’s relationship issues threatening the mission’s stability, Harper reins everyone in to stop Cheverin’s diabolical scheme. It would be simplistic and predictable to lambast this action-thriller for being bland and unimaginative. However, despite the resources on offer, the movie never strays from conventional spy-thriller material. Ryan, one of author Tom Clancy’s creations, is one of literature and entertainment media’s most intriguing characters. Born from Clancy’s impressive knowledge of covert operations, sleeper-agent programs, government methodologies, and military intelligence, Ryan is a cunning, nimble, and modest spy. Adapting Clancy’s works, this franchise once increased action cinema’s worthiness. As pulsating and impactful action-thrillers, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger succeed thanks to tightly wound narratives and entertaining performances. Unfortunately, The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit are nonsensical and unintentionally laughable. Explaining this narrative’s core ingredients is like asking a cat to explain astrophysics. Once Ryan’s motivations are established, the extended prologue awkwardly veers into uninteresting corporate-espionage territory. From there, Ryan’s analytical mind is tested on screens, charts, and numbers. To Wall Street aficionados, the first third will be delightfully entertaining. However, the movie quickly loses focus, purpose, and character.

Kenneth Branagh.

With Tinker Tailor Solder Spy‘s alienating coldness and The Fifth Estate‘s computer-reliant plot mechanics, the first third won’t keep action-movie-obsessed viewers entertained. With befuddling exposition, debilitating jargon, and joyless characters, the dramatic aspects also become steadily tiresome. However, after Ryan lands in Moscow, the movie hurriedly transitions into a mindless action romp. With its convoluted techno-espionage plot eviscerated by explosive action sequences, Shadow Recruit switches form one spy-action sub-genre to another. In the following two thirds, this instalment borrows from the Bond, Bourne, and Mission Impossible franchises. Lacking the previous Jack Ryan instalments’ edginess and balance, Shadow Recruit is a frustrating and egregious 2-hour distraction. Like Salt and The Bourne Legacy, the disappointing narrative, wavering pace, and derivative revelations severely dampen this otherwise diverting experience. Lacking Spy Game and Breach‘s intensifying darkness and socio-political relevance, Shadow Recruit becomes yet another tedious and expansive action flick. Although brash preconceptions overwhelm most action flicks, plot-holes, contrivances, and stupefying characterisations become increasingly distracting. Throughout this befuddling spy-thriller story, the character’s questionable and perplexing antics pull the audience out of this experience. The movie, though slick, stylish, and picturesque, depicts the American and Russian Governments as childish and moronic factions. With another Cold War approaching, our characters lack intelligence and agency. 

“You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct. Perhaps you are just rude.” (Victor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit).

Keira Knightley.

Despite these desperate situations, no one follows basic protocols or ethically sound methodologies. Why does Ryan tell Cathy he’s a CIA analyst? How do the characters jump between settings without being stopped by authorities? Also, why doesn’t Harper tie off loose ends? Despite the nonsensical screenplay, Branagh’s direction is derivative of Sam Mendes, Martin Campbell, and Paul Greengrass’. The action sequences tumble and fall tirelessly. Shaking cameras and quick cuts distort the energetic set pieces. The standout sequence, involving Ryan and a heavy-set assassin, is a rare highlight. However, the motorcycle/car stunts and chases boost this movie’s schizophrenic tone. Punches, stabs, and bullet wounds add some impact. Shadow Recruit‘s cinematography and production design provide several eye-catching moments. Copying Skyfall‘s emphasis on nighttime sequences and mesmerising compositions, the immaculate settings and locations widen this banal action-thriller’s scope. In addition, the cast excels despite the derivative and underwhelming characterisations. Pine, sporting his Captain Kirk swagger full-time, is a charismatic and commendable on-screen presence. His boyish charm, physicality, and range solidify this engaging role. With smarter material, Pine could’ve cemented another major franchise. Costner’s resurgence delivers this intriguing and entertaining character. This impressive casting solidifies Ryan and Harper’s friendship. Branagh elevates his racially insensitive antagonistic character. With a thick accent and purposeful mannerisms, he overcomes the character’s wafer-thin motivations. However, Knightley awkwardly adjusts to her irritating and nosy character. On top of Knightley’s wavering accent, her character is a nonsensical and unnecessary hindrance.

Shadow Recruit, despite the glowing positives and immense potential, can’t overcome the genre’s overblown and stupefying conventions. With its been-there-done-that story, underdeveloped characters, and derivative direction, this action-thriller doesn’t delve beyond the surface. With this series’ more memorable instalments becoming action-movie gems, Shadow Recruit doesn’t match its predecessors or this century’s most influential spy-action flicks.

Verdict: A punchy yet generic and confusing action flick.