Review: “A Hijacking.”

Tobias Lindholm’s A Hijacking is a matter-of-fact procedural, and nothing more. It follows the hijacking of a ship from beginning to end, with special attention paid to the key players. There is no attempt to gloss the hijacking with theatrics, and the action oozes with plausibility. Early into the film, I found myself wondering, “Where else can they go with this?” It turns out it gets a lot deeper, both in terms of the psychological toll on the men and what a human life is worth. This is thriller is exhausting.

We first meet Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), the ship’s cook. He’s speaking on the phone with his wife, and cannot wait to get home to her and his daughter. Then we see “DAY 1” appear on the screen. Lindholm does not show the Somali pirates taking the ship; instead, we’re thrown into the matter-of-fact misery of the occupation. Back in Denmark, the CEO of the shipping company (Søren Malling) is a ruthless negotiator. His name is Peter, and he’s the sort of guy who knows how to the call the bluff of top business leaders, so when a pirate expert (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) suggests they get outside help, Peter immediately rebuffs him. This is his company, damn it, and he’s going to fix this mess. The pirate’s negotiator (Abdihakin Asgar) is also professional, except he’s more willing to manipulate the hostages to get his way.

This hijacking takes much longer than a few weeks. By the time the days push past the 100 day mark, I found myself dreading the sequences on the ship. The first thing the ship loses is sanitation; the hostages must wallow in their own shit, and Lindholm’s understated suggestion is effective. Things are cleaner in Denmark, although they’re taxing in a different way. Peter nearly loses his mind over the hijacking: he yells at his wife, sneers at his board, and tries to hide his contempt of Omar. All the negotiations unfold with a combination of tension and formality. It’s strange to hear Peter and Omar exchange pleasantries before they make offers and counter-offers (although this is a foreign film, most of the dialogue is in English).

Lindholm shoots A Hijacking like it’s a documentary. Even when it gets violent, he focuses on faces and the unfortunate realities of the situation. The acting follows the direction: everyone tries to keep it together, except then they can’t. As Mikkel, Asbæk’s slow decay from competence to desperation is downright heartbreaking. Malling has an interesting challenge: Peter is a businessman, not a monster, so Malling must communicate the right combination of professionalism and pride. There’s a dreadful scene where Peter loses his cool, yet empathy for the CEO comes easily. It’s been months in this tiny room, and Omar’s strategy is deliberately grating. He’s exhausted, too, and he wants this shitty business to end. Asgar’s performance is the mirror image of Malling, and they have more in common than either would care to admit.

There’s no disguising it: parts of A Hijacking are downright depressing, yet there’s an audience for this type of film. Anyone who can appreciate well-crafted thriller will find plenty to admire, and the human element is always psychologically astute. The manipulative scenes are not just emotional, they’re alsointeresting. At a crucial moment, the hostages go fishing and everyone rejoices when they catch a big fish, including the pirates. This kind of fraternization is dangerous, everyone knows it, yet Lindholm understands how it’s natural. To be honest, I was thankful for the levity just like Mikkel was. A Hijacking is that kind of movie. It gets its claws in you, and when it finally lets go, you’re not quite the same.