While pirates have an entertaining reputation for being fun-loving folk roaring across the high seas, anyone who owns a boat would like to think they a thing of the past. Sadly, these plunderers still exist (albeit not in the typical guise) and are a considerable blight on the modern shipping industry. This is particularly the case in the waters around Somalia, where many of the world’s major trade routes converge.
Tobias Lindholm‘s A Hijacking is an account of how these pirates operate. A Danish ship, manned by seven unarmed crewmen, is overtaken by gun-wielding Somalians who then proceed to negotiate a ransom with the ship’s owner. After the initial ambush, an English-speaking negotiator called Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) engages the cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), to help communicate the hefty demands to headquarters. There Peter (Søren Malling, The Killing-Danish Version), the CEO, takes it upon himself to sort of the mess. Against all advice for him to leave it to the professionals, Peter sees it as his responsibility to his employees and their families.
For those of us not in the shipping industry, we can only assume that this is a very realistic account of what a hijacking would be like. Gone are the explosions and gung-ho rescue missions you’d expect from Hollywood. What we get is an agonisingly slow but no less tense wait over a matter of months, giving us a gruelling insight into the handling of hostage crises. As far as Lindholm is concerned, he is a director in good form, when you consider his other film from 2012, The Hunt, has been universally acclaimed.
While some might not be so patient in watching other people wait, the effect of this movie is that you essentially are drawn into the hostage scenario and its grim realities. Whether this realism is a good thing is a matter of how much you want to know. Certainly, the entire cast is thoroughly convincing, especially the besieged pairing of Mikkel and Peter.
Asgar’s Omar is particularly interesting in that he provides a surprisingly sympathetic presence, being caught between three lots of interests: HQ’s claim to a price they think is worthwhile; the crew who simply want to go home unharmed; and the pirates who don’t care how long it takes to bleed the company dry.
Despite a slow start, this slow grinding thriller thrives on a claustrophobic atmosphere, becoming tenser with each minute and building to a gripping finale.
A Hijacking is screening as part of the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival.