Reporting Jonathon Sharp
Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking is an intense and nuanced exploration of high-stakes, long-running negotiations with Somali pirates. The drama, written and directed by Lindholm, is centered around two characters living out the different sides of the hostage situation. One man holds the phone, the other is held hostage, and both are losing their minds.
It all starts with the Rozen, a ship that happened to be hijacked in real life. Realism, indeed, is what Lindholm is going for. This isn’t a film of gunfights and crazy plot twists, but one of anguish and conflict, indecision and suffering.
We’re just getting to know the ship’s cook, a jolly family man named Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), when pirates take over the ship in the Indian Ocean. Mikkel was expecting to see his wife and young daughter in just days, but he soon realizes a reunion, if possible, could be months and months away.
As the hijacking goes down, the Danish shipping CEO (Søren Malling) is busy buying a Japanese company for a cool couple million. Malling’s look — that of the sharp-eyed, slim analytic Norseman — is perfect. His CEO is terse yet courteous, and absolutely confident in his ability to do business.
And when news of the hijacking hits his office, the CEO takes to it like a boss. He makes numerous smart choices, but he refuses to hire someone to negotiate with the hijackers. “These are my employees,” the CEO seems to think. “This is my problem, my responsibility, and I’ll fix it.”
He is, however, warned by a pirate expert not to get emotionally involved in the negotiations. Emotions, so the warning goes, lead to clouded thoughts, which then beget mistakes — deaths, in this case. And as soon as the CEO makes his first offer to the pirates (something like $250,000, the pirates wanted like $20 million), he hears gunshots, instantly realizing that this is not just some business deal, that despite his diamond-sharp skillset he’s not prepared for this.
And this is what A Hijacking does well: Its tense, brooding realism lets you enter the characters’ minds. With the CEO, you understand his desire to get his employees back. You even understand that he doesn’t want to pay the pirates millions and millions of dollars for the lives of the crew. After all, he made this company. What right do the pirates have to demand it from him?
On the other hand, we also get inside the head of Mikkel, the cook. At times, he’s brought into the negotiations by the pirates’ translator. Mikkel tells the CEO that the pirates are going to kill them, and that he needs to just pay them. Life on the ship, at this point, is like inhabiting a floating sauna where urine and feces fester in the corners. There’s no food, and the crew is basically forced to make friends with the pirates — to laugh and sing with them — less their captors get trigger happy with their beloved AK-47s. Mikkel is left to wonder what his life is worth. The movie asks you the same thing: Why doesn’t the CEO just pay up? Or — if one is prone to reflection — what might my boss pay to save me? Is my life worth millions?
Mikkel’s helplessness — while keeping with the movie’s realism — comes close, at times, to being boring. He seems incapable of action, of affecting change. His pain is as interesting to watch as that of Theon Greyjoy’s in Game of Thrones. It sets the scene, but sometimes fails to accomplish much else.
While the cook’s misery sucks out a bit of the movie’s kinetic energy, A Hijacking‘s potential for surprise makes up for it. Emotions, after all, can beget mistakes; and those little mess-ups can leave bodies in their wake.
A Hijacking is playing at the Lagoon Cinema.