A Hijacking (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Arrow Films) Running time: 103 minutes approx.
On the Indian Ocean Danish cargo ship the MV Rozen is hijacked by a group of Somali pirates. The leader of the pirates Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) makes a ransom demand of $15 million for the boat and the seven crew members. The CEO of the shipping company the Rozen belongs to Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) refuses the demands beginning months of long and arduous negotiations between the two camps while the crew live in fear of their lives.
This incredibly tense and very realistic Danish film is a tale of putting a cash value on a human life and the consequences of remaining resolute under pressure . It’s a tale of two worlds connected, yet divided, by a common thread, the juxtaposition of which highlights both sets of moral values being tested during the hostage negotiations.
Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, who may only be helming his second film but his writing credits stretch across titles familiar to fans of Nordic Noir including The Hunt and many episodes of the political TV hit Borgen. Therefore we know already that we are to be presented a film with an extraordinarily well crafted script.
One of the clear strengths of the film is how it eschews the usual testosterone fuelled explosive action fare one would see if this was a Hollywood production, instead delivering a film that is built on subtleties, nuances and the very authentic fears of the hostages. No-one plays the hero, and no-one tries to formulate a surreptitious escape plan – this is as real as it can get.
The cinema vérité camerawork for the sea based scenes (shot at sea!), the use of non-professional Somali actors and the genuine MV Rozen ship that was genuinely hijacked by real Somali pirates in 2011 add to the verisimilitude of the experience, played out of course by a fabulous cast.
In a clever touch we don’t actually get to see the hijacking; Ludvigsen is merely interrupted in a meeting by his number two Lars Vestergaard (Dar Salim) with the news via iPhone!
Ludvigsen immediately calls his directors and takes the decision to bring in a professional hostage negotiator Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter – who IS a professional negotiator with experience dealing with Somali pirates) to lead them through the discussion with the pirates.
The chosen stance is not to give into the pirates and try to whittle down their demands. While Ludvigsen confidently – or rather arrogantly – plays hardball, the hostages don’t appreciate his tactics.
With the captain (Keith Pearson) ill it is down to the ship’s cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) to be the middle man between the crew – four of whom are hidden away – and the pirates.
Mikkel is particularly distraught at the situation as the film opens with him breaking the news that his trip would be longer before the hijack took place. With Ludvigsen refusing to talk money with him and missing his young daughter’s birthday, Mikkel is our conduit for the emotional suffering the hostages endure for one hundred thirty days.
What is most astonishing about the whole situation is the attitude of the Somalis. Despite his team brandishing rifles and shoving the hostages around, Omar is an affable chap who tries to convince Mikkel that he isn’t the enemy and he wants to go home too. Basically, in his minds the length of their stay is directly the fault Ludvigsen for not paying up and tells Mikkel that his boss should be the target for his frustration.
This sophistry of entitlement may sound bizarre to us but it seems that for cash strapped Somalians piracy and hostage taking is a common method for them to make their money. It creates an interesting debate as to whether we should spare them a little sympathy for having to live in such poverty that they are being forced into such drastic action but of course, it is not that simple.
While Mikkel and the others – including their captors – suffer poor sanitary conditions, lack of food and water and mental trauma, Ludvigsen and his team are suited and booted in the comfort of their safe boardroom with tea and biscuits on tap.
Yet, despite his dogged pursuit in bringing the ransom down to a mutually agreeable figure, Ludvigsen is suffering his own mental torture but it is somewhat harder to sympathise with him, as it is his stubbornness that is causing the negotiations to be so protracted.
Lindholm’s skilful juxtaposition of the two diametrically opposed settings paints a beautifully intense and bleak picture of both side of the dispute, taking the viewer deep into the heart of the negotiating procedure providing a little education in the process.
Lindholm’s aforementioned connection with Borgen ensures little surprise that two of its stars were drafted for the lead roles here, albeit in roles opposite to the ones we know them for. Here Søren Malling – who played the TV news editor and also starred in The Killing – is the money driven “suit” while Pilou Asbæk shows he can be a good guy unlike his spin doctor Kasper Juul, playing the ostensible heart of the story as family man chef Mikkel.
The Somali actors were non-professional but Lindholm is skilled enough to figure out their strengths to pull believable performances from them.
If there was one quibble it would be that after one hundred a thirty plus days, the pirates and the hostages should have been more withered, gaunt and definitely more hirsute than they were after that time, but one can allow this to pass as a minor oversight.
A Hijacking works so brilliantly because it is the antithesis of what you might expect from a hostage story. By stripping it bare and showing the procedural side of things as opposed to an exaggerated fantasy, we are treated to a film of depth, raw emotion and palpable tension based on the minutiae and not the grandiose.
A sublime and – pardon the pun – captivating experience to say the least.
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Rating – ****
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