A Hijacking (Magnolia Pictures, R)

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film a-hijacking_75They’re like Marcus and McTeague in Frank Norris’s 1899 novel, handcuffed to each other in a struggle that could well end in mutually assured destruction.





film a-hijacking

A Hijacking opens calmly enough, on a Danish cargo ship with amiable ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek) speaking to his wife and child by radio. He apologizes that he will be home a few days late because he has to show the next cook the ropes. Of course, his wife is annoyed, but it’s nothing that can’t be patched up. The Indian Ocean is beautiful and calm and everything seems to be fine aboard the cargo ship MV Rosen.

Back home in Denmark, the shipping line owners (resplendent in crisp white shirts and black suits, forming an obvious contrast to the sailors’ informality) are talking about profits and tonnage and a deal they are negotiating with a Japanese company, so all is business as usual there, as well. Until it isn’t, as a message comes in that the Rosen has been hijacked.

Director Tobias Lindholm doesn’t show the hijacking itself, only the aftermath: A young Somali pirate bearing a machine gun guards the deck, as the ship’s crew members are violently herded below deck by more armed Somalis. Because even pirates have to eat, Mikkel is put to work preparing food for the Somalis, giving him more contact with his captors than the other men. He is later pressed into service to communicate the pirates’ demands to his boss back in Denmark, and becomes our window into life on the hijacked ship.

The film settles into a rhythm, alternating between the Rosen and the boardroom, as the ship’s owners discuss how to best handle the negotiations. It seems to be merely another business decision for them, in contrast to the emotions shown by the families of the crew members and the desperate situation of the crew. CEO Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) and hostage expert Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) both want to resolve the situation, but they don’t have the same sense of urgency as do the men on the ship—besides, Julian argues that emotional involvement could endanger the men’s lives as well as the negotiation process.

Negotiations begin on day seven, with an opening demand of $15 million. The company responds with an offer of $250,000, and both sides know they’re in for a long round of negotiations. Of course, while life may be tense in the boardroom, at least they’re not confined in a small below-deck room, without sanitary facilities and with the constant possibility of death hanging over them.

By week four, life on the ship is getting more desperate, as food starts to run out and the crew begins to doubt if they will ever be freed. The bizarre nature of the stalemate is perfectly expressed in a discussion between Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the Somali’s leader who insists he’s not a pirate, and Mikkel: Both want the situation resolved so they can go home (and, in the Somali case, with lots of money), but it seems, from each man’s point of view, that neither can do anything to bring about that result. They’re like Marcus and McTeague in Frank Norris’s 1899 novel, handcuffed to each other in a struggle that could well end in mutually assured destruction.

A Hijacking has been scooping up nominations and awards on the international festival circuit, including the FIPRESCI prize and Golden Alexander (best film) at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, as well as a whole slew of Roberts (the Danish equivalent of the Oscars) and Bodil Awards (presented by the Danish National Film Critic’s Association). It’s well worth seeing, and gives you a view of a not-uncommon international situation that you’re unlikely to find in any American film. | Sarah Boslaugh

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