These Pirates, Not So Jolly – Danish film ‘A Hijacking’ a Taut anti-thriller

Fren Mailing in "A Hijacking" Magnolia Pictures photos
Fren Mailing in “A Hijacking”
Magnolia Pictures photos

Tobias Lindholm’s “A Hijacking” takes a procedural approach to a story that is usually handled as a backdrop to action-film hijinks. But instead of a Bruce Willis or a Steven Seagal rappelling down from a helicopter, both guns blazing, we have a series of negotiations. I would suggest that “A Hijacking,” by doing so, becomes a much tenser experience for it.

This is Mr. Lindholm’s second film after his prison drama “R” and he’s also an accomplished scriptwriter — his most recent being the Mads Mikkelson-led “The Hunt.” So he’s used to writing about men trapped in small spaces, either physically or mentally.

The movie takes place in two locations: on board a Danish cargo ship that is soon to be overrun by Somali pirates, and the corporate offices of the shipping company, where the CEO decides to communicate with the pirates himself.

Of the men on board, we feel most empathy with the cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), who we see in the first scene talking to his wife and child back home. As the ship’s captain is taken ill, he becomes the main contact between the CEO (Soren Malling) and the pirates’ own negotiator Omar (Abidhakin Asgar). Omar is the only one who can speak English, and is friendly. He doesn’t want to be here either, he says, but he works for the pirates. (We never meet the head of the pirates, and we never really know how much he’s lying.)

The CEO has brought in his own negotiation coach (played by real life hostage negotiator Connor Julian), a down-to-earth British bloke who contrasts well with Mr. Malling’s angular, thin character. One doesn’t just pay the pirates, even if it’s affordable, it is explained. To give in to the first demand just means they’ll ask for more. So — as an early scene between the CEO and a rival Japanese company demonstrates — you bid low, show no emotion, and play a waiting game.

Trouble is, there are human lives at stake. The Danish crewmembers are holed up in a cabin in disgusting filthy conditions. The threat of violence is always there, just one trigger-finger away.

“A Hijacking” lays out the complexities of capitalism in an even-handed way that few films manage. The CEO is absolutely right in his negotiations, and only makes a mistake when he lets his emotions get the better of him. The pure numbers, the raw money, tell the tale on the whiteboard in the tiny office where they contact Omar and his gang. Both sides of this transaction know it’s a game, but the pirates are operating out of hunger and need and the ruthlessness that follows. As Octave says in Renoir’s “Rules of the Game,” “Everybody has his reasons.”

Nobody acts like a hero, there are some last minute slip-ups, and right at the end there is an event that part of me thought unnecessary, but another part felt inevitable. To explain would give too much away. Like the film itself, it leaves an ambiguous taste in the mouth. Let’s just say nobody leaves unaffected.

‘A Hijacking’
* * * *
Starring: Pilou Asbaek, Abidhakin Asgar, Soren Malling
Length: 103 mins.
Rating: R for language
Playing at: Riviera

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