A Hijacking. Directed by Tobias Lindholm. At cinemas around New England, including the Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA.
By Gerald Peary
Here’s what Wikepedia teaches you about the activities of Somali pirates. There are about 20-25 hijackings a year in the India Sea, and 45 days of captivity is the norm. The average paid ransom is a hefty $4.87 million dollars. Approximately 3,500 persons have been captured, and 62 people have died while in confinement: suicides, malnutrition, and 25 murders. The based-on-fact A Hijacking, a deft, intelligent, tense, and exciting melodrama from Denmark, tells a stressful tale of a Danish ship, the R.D. Rozen, from when it is taken by pirates and then the negotiations afterwards for its release, months dragging into months.
Filmmaker Tobias Lindholm, known previously for his excellent script for Thomas Vinterberg’s A Celebration, proves as competent a director as he is a screenwriter. His basic conceit is to cut back and forth, back and forth, between the arrid, antiseptic drawing room of the slick Danish corporation that owns the ship, where the negotiators wear coats and ties, and the increasingly sweaty, sloppy ship itself, where, as the months go by, everyone cracks up under unbearable circumstances The R.D. Rozen has no superhuman Ahab at the helm. Its captain becomes a passive, useless wreck early on. It does have an Ishmael, the movie’s nice guy protagonist, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), the ship’s cook. Will he, like Ishmael, survive this debilitating crisis? Or will his claustrophobic months of being kept in the ship’s hold make him a victim of post-traumatic distress? That’s the real-life fate of many who have been released by Somali pirates.
The most arresting performance in A Hijacking is that of Soren Malling as Peter Ludvigsen, CEO of the Danish shipping company. He is superbly composed, in charge, keeping all unhelpful emotions in check as he leads the negotiating team in what can be seen, metaphorically, as, pardon the cliché, a high-high-stakes poker game. Peter’s object is to bring back his ship and his crew but by spending as little ransom money as possible. If it angers the relatives of the crew, if it keeps the ship in captivity far longer, so be it, if that waiting period saves the company some dough in the grueling negotiations.
Don’t worry about spoilers: I’m not going to tell you if the ship goes free. I will say that Lindholm’s insistence on a lived-in realism paid off. The film was shot on the India Sea; the ship used really had been captured by pirates; the company in Copenhagen is a real shipping company; the negotiator in the movie is a real-life negotiator. Only the lead actors are a stretch. Pilou Asbaek, the affable cook, played a macho prisoner in Lindholm’s earlier film, R. Soren Malling, the tightlipped negotiator, is best known in Denmark as a rubber-faced TV comedian.
Gerald Peary is a Professor Emeritus at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of nine books on cinema, writer-director of the documentaries For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism and Archie’s Betty, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess. He is currently at work co-directing with Amy Geller a feature documentary, The Rabbi Goes West.