What is a human life worth? Monetarily, that is. More specifically, what is the seven-man crew of a cargo ship worth to a shipping company? And perhaps, more importantly, what is that crew worth to a group of Somali pirates? Writer-director Tobias Lindholm probes the depths of these questions in A Hijacking, a film where the action takes place in the boardrooms of Copenhagen more than the decks of the Danish cargo ship.
Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek) is the cook on the RV Rozen when it is hijacked by Somali pirates in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The take-over occurs off camera. We first learn of the ship’s plight when a call comes in to Peter Ludvigsen,(Soren Malling), CEO of the shipping company, demanding an $ 18 million ransom for the cargo vessel and the seven souls on-board. The shipping company counters with an offer of $ 500,000, and the lives and safety of the seven men become the subject of protracted negotiations.
Over the course of several months, Mikkel and the ship’s engineer, Jan Sorensen (Roland Moller) suffer through deplorable conditions and grueling heat as the negotiations for their release continue. Ludvigsen works painstakingly with Omar, the only English-speaking representative of the pirates, to obtain the safe return of the men. To the pirates, it is just another transaction on the open seas. To Ludvigsen, it is a negotiation like no other, and the weeks and months begin to wear on his nerves and his marriage.
A Hijacking has many compelling moments, but it does suffer from a bit of predictability. The bad guys are bad. The captives are scared, and the corporate bean counters are worried about coughing up the money too willingly at the risk of the pirates demanding a second payment. There are a few interesting Stockholm Syndrome moments where the hijacked crew and the pirates drink and party together as they wait for the money that will send them all home. As the negotiations drag on, these friendly moments become more infrequent until tensions begin to rise to new heights.
It is also a flaw in the film that the audience never gets to know the pirates as individuals. None of their dialogue is translated with subtitles, and we are left to deduce their intent through their gestures and general demeanor. When conflict between groups of men is the basis for an entire film, it would be far more powerful to understand the thought processes and motives of both sides of the human equation. A film that relies on tension needs a fully-realized villain, and A Hijacking just offers its audience an anonymous mob of men carrying AK-47s.
The performances from Asbaek and Malling are exceptional. Asbaek is best known for his role as Kasper Juul, the political fixer in the Danish drama Borgen. He is virtually unrecognizable under his bushy beard and layers of grime as he puts a very human face on the plight of the hostages. Malling is also a Borgen alumni. He played Torben Friis, the executive producer of a news station in Denmark. His intense performance in A Hijacking makes it hard to believe that he is best known as a comedian in his home country. (Note: If you’re thinking by now that you should find a copy of all three seasons of Borgen, you are correct.)
Writer/director Tobias Lindholm is the award-winning screenwriter for The Hunt, a film that appears on my list of the Top Five Most Anticipated Films of the Summer for this site. As a director, he gives A Hijacking a very authentic feel. If I was not already familiar with several of the actors on screen, I might mistake portions of this film for a documentary. This is only his second film behind the camera, and hopefully his sense of pacing will improve with time. A Hijacking spends a little too much time dwelling on the obvious.
Despite my criticisms, A Hijacking is worth a look. In a given year, there are a handful of great films and many films that are simply “good”. A Hijacking is a better than average trip to the theater. What makes compelling viewing? is a very subjective question, and many viewers may find the film more suspenseful than I did. The fact that it is expertly written and performed is without question.
7.5 out of 10
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.