Film
5:42 am
Fri July 19, 2013

Film Review: Tense Negotiations Across The Open Sea In 'A Hijacking'

Mikkel, a cargo ship cook, withstands 127 days of captivity in the Danish film 'A Hijacking.'
Credit Magnolia Pictures

On its surface, the Danish film A Hijacking (in Dutch, Kapringen) is a tense hostage drama about a cargo ship overtaken by Somali pirates and the ensuing negations for the crew's release.

But director Tobias Lindholm has much more on his mind. Besides making a nail-biter where the potential for death hovers in very close quarters, he's also commenting on socioeconomic class and the wide ethical gap between the cooks and engineers on board the ship and the suits back at the corporate office who really reap the most benefits.

In the first scene, Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), the ship's cook, chats on the phone with his wife and young daughter. Though the ship is far out in the Indian Ocean, the crew's work is done and he and his mates are now heading home for a needed respite. Yet knowing the film's title and subject matter, there's an ominous shadow to a conversation that is almost banal in its normalcy.

That's followed by the introduction to Peter (Søren Malling), the CEO of the shipping company playing financial cat-and-mouse with Japanese customers where the stakes involve millions of dollars. That casual, calculated embrace of greed and profit will soon stand in stark contrast to the company’s ill-planned if not stingy negotiations with Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the pirates’ translator.

The hijacking (which unfolds with titles like “Day 25” and ultimately “Day 127”) reaches Day 7 before Omar makes Peter an offer: $15 million in return for the crew of seven. The CEO’s counteroffer of $250,000 is almost cruel in its underestimation of Omar and the heavily armed hijackers. The back-and-forth offers and counteroffers go on for about four months while conditions on the ship go from bad to worse as the crew deteriorates physically and mentally.

The captives’ toilet privileges are crudely addressed and they’re denied fresh air until Day 67. There are issues of religious food restrictions – the pirates are Muslim and the food rations are dwindling down to canned ham – and refracted blame. Back at the ship’s corporate office, the employees' conditions aren’t really a priority for the executives whose biggest inconvenience is running out of clean shirts. It seems Lindholm, who also wrote the script, has such a keen eye for detail that it makes a familiar narrative of desperation and claustrophobia fresh and riveting.

A Hijacking| Dir. Tobias Lindholm | 1 hours 39 minutes | Showing at Tivoli Cinemas

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