A Hijacking

JOHANNES RUCKSTUHL finds Tobias Lindholm’s film of piracy off the Somali coast a gripping and terrifying ordeal.

Dar Salim Film Hijacking Pilou Asbaek pirates Somalia Soren Maling Tobias Lindholm

HijackingOriginal Title: Kapringen

Directed By: Tobias Lindholm

Starring: Pilou Asbaek, Søren Maling, Dar Salim

Running Time: 99 min

Few societies have disintegrated, and been allowed to disintegrate, like that of Somalia. After a series of military failures, most prominently the Battle of Mogadishu (more commonly referred to as Black Hawk Down), the UN force charged with restoring order withdrew in 1995, leaving the civil-war plagued country to rot. However, the increasing threat of piracy to shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden in the new millennium has necessarily returned some attention, resulting in one of the most ambitious efforts of international naval cooperation, variously involving 25 nations.

Hollywood too has returned to the subject: the true story of Richard Phillips, captain of an American vessel hijacked in 2009, will arrive on screens in November this year in the hands of Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass, the director behind United 93 and the first two Jason Bourne sequels. A Hijacking, directed by Tobias Lindholm, takes a similar premise – a Danish freighter is boarded and a ransom demanded for the release of its crew – but could not be further from the shaky camera nervosity and frenetic action of the thriller genre Greengrass helped define. So much so that neither the aforementioned military operation nor the actual hijacking are given any screen time. Stripped bare of plot and action, the film thrives on the withholding of information and the reducing of decision and consequence to a terrifying simplicity.

On the one hand is the ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), forced to make do with the lack of food and fresh water and wait for help to arrive, yet liable to be used as negotiating bait. On the other is the ship’s owner Peter (Søren Malling) in Denmark, who sees it as his duty to personally mediate with the pirates, yet aware that he is gambling with the lives of his crew every time he refuses to cough up the demanded $15 million. Each attempts the doomed task of trying to deal rationally and calculatingly with a situation that discards both at the outset. Peter in particular may be overestimating his abilities to separate emotional from business involvement.

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And although Mikkel and Peter talk to each other repeatedly as part of the bargaining, Lindholm refuses to cut from one location to the other within individual scenes, feeding us only the information available to one character at a time. Additionally, almost every sequence is played out in real time, defined by entire minutes of tense silence, waiting for a response as the stakes escalate. What may sound tedious and lacking spectacle (and there is a definite element of the documentary filmmaker here, not that those two necessarily invoke one another), is as enthralling as it is frustrating – as realistic and as close as one would want to get to a real-life hostage situation.

A Hijacking enters territory most hostage thrillers never approach – the true feeling of a shared ordeal. When it takes a final, and entirely unexpected twist in its concluding minutes, it is impossible not to feel utterly drained. Clearly it isn’t safe to go back in the water just yet.