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. 

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