A Hijacking delivers all the thrills the title suggests, but in none of the places you’d expect them. Even the hijacking—the most obvious candidate for a set piece—happens off camera. The movie depicts a volatile situation that could go wrong at any moment. A single misstep could cost people their lives. This creates a psychological strain not only on the prisoners, but on the people trying to free them.
Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm has crafted the movie in a straight-forward manner that lays out the scenario and lets the emotions come forth on their own. Shot with handheld cameras, the movie cross-cuts between two perspectives. On the ship, Somali pirates hold hostage the crew of a freight ship bound for India. Back in Denmark, the corporate office attempts to get everyone home safely.
The crew’s story centers around the cook (Pilou Asbaek), whom the pirates select to participate in phone calls because he can speak English so they can understand what he says. Back in Denmark, the company’s CEO (Søren Malling) works to make a deal to get the crew back. The pirates want to manipulate the company into giving them as much money as possible, and the crew members are their pawns.
It would have been easy to turn the film into a standard tale of corporate ethics. One employee could have been hell-bent on getting the ship home, no matter the cost, only to be strong-armed by greedy bookkeepers who are only concerned with the bottom line. Instead, we get a much more fascinating study of a negotiation in which the usual rules don’t apply.
The consultant who comes in to help with the negotiations lays it out simply: If you give the hijackers what they want too easily, they will think they hit the jackpot, and continue to hold the ship for even more ransom. So it’s necessary to labor through a protracted process, moving up slowly from a tiny fraction of the pirates’ asking price. While this back-and-forth goes on, however, the crew must languish in unhealthy conditions and a state of confusion.
Malling brilliantly meets the challenge of portraying a man who is used to being in control of every situation and suddenly finds himself not. The film establishes his CEO as a king of the negotiating table, introducing the character as he rescues a failing deal. But the usual rules don’t apply here, and he soon grows frustrated with his impotence.
The negotiations play out in a series of high-stakes phone calls, with Mikkel the cook brought in to manipulate the emotions of the executives. Any showing of weakness or unplanned move during a call could kill the deal—or a crew member. To add to the strangeness, the negotiator, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), is quick to remind them that he himself isn’t a pirate, and is merely communicating on the kidnappers’ behalf.
The sound of the long-range cellular calls adds additional tension. Words echo back at the people who spoke them. Uncomfortable pauses are made longer with transmission delays. It gives the mind time to calculate the possible response to each move, and grow increasingly worried about possible outcomes.
That there can be so much excitement from a bunch of people sitting in a conference room with a table and a white board is the film’s real achievement. There would have been several easy, predictable ways to make a film about A Hijacking’s subject matter. Lindholm pressed toward unexpected territory and found the real drama.
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Dar Salim, Pilou Asbaek, Roland Moller, Soren Malling, Abdihakin Asgar
Release Date: June 14, 2013
In Danish and English with English subtitles.