Taut and considered, psychological drama doesn’t come much better than Tobias Lindholm’s romance free tale of modern day piracy A Hijacking. Following on closely from the critical success of Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012), which Lindholm also penned, this account of Somali pirates boarding a Danish container ship for ransom and the extended negotiation process that ensues mines much of the same tonal ground from within a very different narrative context.
The film’s narrative plays out in dual locations: 1. On board the MV Rosen where the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), in lieu of the ailing captain, is forced to wait table for the pirates and deal with their negotiator Omar, taking the psychological brunt of the mind games played in a life-or-death bargaining match 2. Back at home office in Denmark where shipping company CEO Peter (Søren Malling) negotiates for the release of the hostages and ship under the guidance of negotiation specialist consultant Connor (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) and attempts to calm and encourage the captive crew’s devastated families. As the film cuts back and forth between the two locations we get a slowly emerging sense of the delicate balance of power, the toll this elongated process is taking on all the participants–willing or no–and the implications of all the various courses of action decided upon or discarded.
As with The Hunt, the screenplay of A Hijacking is watertight; all slow burn tension building with occasional eruptive moments of release. Lindholm’s direction is also firm coaxing believably strained performances out of the cast and maintaining a palpable realism to keep us feeling the stakes. Much credit needs to go to the cast. Pilou Asbæk delivers a nuanced performance expertly charting Mikkel’s arc from the cautiously hopeful cook to a man pushed past the limit of his personal resources. Likewise Søren Malling’s Peter whose sense of responsibility to his employees combined with his strong business acumen and self control lead him to realise only too late that he is actually out of his depth and may possibly become a hindrance–with severe consequences–rather than a help. Also keeping proceedings grounded is the inclusion of Gary Skjoldmose Porter in the cast. An actual hostage negotiator initially brought in to consult on the production he was soon asked to play a version of himself in the film (Connor) which he does with a measured veracity and no little skill. This tactic of utilising a practitioner in place of an actor is not new to the Lindholm who cast ex-con Roland Møller as Mureren in his debut his prison dramaR.
A Hijacking does a decent job of unpacking the situations of the various players in such a scenario whilst avoiding histrionics. For example: a scene some way into the hostage situation where the prisoners are finally allowed some small (supervised) freedom of the ship and a fishing expedition ensues, is particularly well crafted. Not only showing the joyous relief from tension and boredom the filmmakers successfully communicate a tone of slightly manic nervousness around the day and night’s festivities; they may be enjoying this moment but the captives still feel the knife-edge as keenly as they did in the preceding days. This hair trigger tone and admirable handling of tension and character confusion reminds of James Marsh’s also commendable work in his lo-fi espionage thriller Shadow Dancer (also 2012). It’s nice to see that Lindholm is capable of taking his stories and transforming them into successful films. I’d be interested to see the filmmaker go in some different tonal directions but one thing is certain: he knows how to build tension in compelling stories with relatable characters.
Rating: R13 Violence and offensive language.