' ' Cinema Romantico: A Hijacking

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Hijacking

A Danish cargo ship in the Indian Ocean has been hijacked by Somali pirates. The families of the seven crew members being held hostage have gathered before the C.E.O., Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), of the company owning the ship. They want to know how Peter is so certain their family members are still alive. Peter explains the ship, in truth, is not worth much to his company. The crew members are the pirates' sole negotiating chips and, thus, must be kept alive. This is reassuring, but also horrifying. In other words, "A Hijacking" asks: how much are these human lives worth?

Sometimes we and the crew members and the pirates have to wonder. The pirates' negotiating translator, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), portrayed as surprisingly genial, until he is very much not, wants $15 million. Peter, who has chosen, perhaps unwisely, to handle the negotiations himself (these are his men), counter-offers a measly $250,000. And later, after several weeks have already passed, after threats have been made against the crew, Peter's offer has come up all of $650,000. Omar laughs. You might laugh too. It seems insulting, careless. But is it?

"A Hijacking", a docu-thriller, written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, pointedly refuses reducing itself to simplistic black & white or typical thriller cliches - heck, we do not even see the actual hijacking. We catch up with it after it's happened. The one crew member with whom we truly become close is the bearded cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), who we see in a few quick early scenes cheerily dishing out breakfast and coffee, making a call back home to his wife and infant daughter, breathing in the striking skyscape alongside the rolling water.

We live through the inexpressible nightmare alongside him, trapped below deck and in rooms they cannot leave to relieve themselves. The pirates, speaking in dialogue that is jarringly (smartly) not sub-titled, brandish their machine guns like party favors, as if learning how to operate them for the first time a few days ago. Time and again my heart leapt as these automatic weapons waved to and fro in the frame, fully expecting them to be discharged for no reason. Imagine living like that for months.

Yet, in a stirringly haunting passage, when the crew members are let out for fresh air, a weird camaraderie emerges, as the men fish and haul in a big catch. Hostages and Hijackers celebrate. They high-five. Literally. They booze it up and sing the few songs to which they all know the words ("Happy birthday to you"). Without explicitly saying so this demonstrates how, law-breaking or not, they are essentially on the same level as far as multi-million dollar businessmen are concerned, businessmen who fashionably remain outfitted in form-fitting suits and perfectly adjusted French Cuffs even as negotiations on drag on and on.

Of course, the negotiations are not that simple either. As the American negotiating expert (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) brought in explains to Peter, it is simply not possible to give the hijackers the ransom they demand straight away because they will just up their price. No, it has to be a slow-burning back and forth. Fair enough, but this slow? Seemingly both the situation and the guilt weigh on Peter. He sleeps in his office, snaps at his wife, essentially becoming imprisoned too.

The final scenes revolve around, shall we say, a precious family trinket. How precious? Well, that’s the $15 million question. Or, is it the $250,000 question? How much is anything we consider precious worth? “A Hijacking” answers: not that much.


Sam Turner said...

This was at The Bradford Film Festival but I missed it and have been regretting that decision every time I read a review like your own.

Great piece, fingers crossed I'll catch up with the Blu-ray soon.

Nick Prigge said...

Can't wait to read your analysis! I'd venture that it would be something right up your alley.