Wednesday, June 26, 2013


A Hijacking (Kapringen)
September 20, 2012 (Denmark)
June 14, 2013 (United States)
103 min
Denmark (Danish / Swedish / English)

Written and Directed by Tobias Lindholm

"A Hijacking" offers two sides of a hostage situation enabling us to make conclusions and consider meanings. This thriller puts realism at its forefront, carried by an exemplary male lead on each end.

2006 was a fantastic year in cinema. One of its prized vessels was Paul Greengrass's "United 93," a gripping and indubitably fair depiction of the events of 9/11, particularly the flight, hijacking and crash of United Airlines Flight 93, that unfolds in near real-time. Tobias Lindholm's first solo directorial effort is "A Hijacking," a Danish film about a cargo ship that is overrun by Somali pirates who take the crew hostage and get in touch with its mother company in Copenhagen for ransom negotiations.

Besides a hijacking as their common crisis the two films are kin in their naturalistic filmmaking techniques: Handheld cameras, true lighting and on-location filming all give the impression that we're remarkably close to actuality. The close-quarters of the vessel, the consistently medium (or closer) shot lengths and that subtle swaying of the sea in addition to the hand-handled photography only increase the floating claustrophobia. Films like these may prove to be more "true to life" than documentaries can ever hope to achieve. Just as we divide our time between the passengers on United  93 and the grounded officials desperate to do what they can, in "A Hijacking" we spend half of the running time amidst the glass-walled offices of Copenhagen where the CEO of the targeted shipping company is personally attending to the matters.

One of the ways in which these two films differ is regarding the hijackers themselves. Al-Qaeda wasn't looking to make a "deal," they were there to cause chaos and carry out their part in the day's masterplan of terrorism. For the Somalians it's much more a business venture, they've even brought in a middle-man to be in charge of negotiations with officials in Copenhagen. Another stark divide between these two is the time transpired during their respective events. "United 93" took place in a single morning - planes can't sustain any situation that goes on too long anyways. It will likely surprise you how much time passes in "A Hijacking." A boat offers a different experience... they're (we're) stuck in the middle of the ocean and things could take a long while to get sorted out.

Another reason I brought up "United 93" was because director Paul Greengrass's next film, "Captain Phillips," is due out later this year. That film tackles the true story of Captain Richard Phillips who was also taken hostage by Somali pirates during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. (Funny how these two 2013 films bear remarkably similar plots, it's not unlike what we'll be seeing later this week with the inevitable "Olympus Has Fallen" vs. "White House Down" debate. I haven't even seen the latter, but please put me in its corner.) We'll see in October how "Captain Phillips" compares; until then it has a lot to live up to as "A Hijacking" sets the bar high.

Pilou Asbæk plays the ship's cook, a much more atypical role for our leading character than say a captain, who proves to be just as valuable once hijacked as he was before the incitation. Søren Malling is the CEO, our other lead, who is seen driving into the company's parking garage during his character's introduction. This is bookended with the fim's final shot of him leaving, as if it say "my work here is done." Malling's character is much less the everyman than Asbæk's cook who has a wife and daughter worried sick back home. Before word of the hijacking reaches Malling's desk he is saving the company over $5 million in a business deal with a Japanese company. What did you do at work today? He embodies and deals business. When an expert is flown in to assist/instruct with the hijacking situation it is recommended that Malling step down and they find someone else, someone who won't be as emotionally involved, to be the on the phone with the pirate's representative. We already know from Malling's previous dealings that he's going to see that things get done (meaing he is going to do them himself).

The cook and the CEO make for a  compelled back-and-forth for this thriller. We're never with either for too long and at times are left effectively longing to know what's going down on the other end. The negotiations were incredibly frustrating to watch. You may find yourself blurting out, "Why won't he just pay the pirates what they want and save these poor guys ASAP?!" Malling's character comes off as business first/employees second long before the film's finale. Is he ever genuine on the phone? Is that a facade he puts on when meeting the families of the victims? Does "A Hijacking" manage to make Malling feel like the one responsible for most of the horrors that the victims suffer? 

The exploration of these quandaries make the film that much more meaningful and lasting. In it's finest moments "A Hijacking" captures what it must have felt like for the prisoners to be granted temporary access to the deck from their make-shift cell below deck: under-appreciated and fresh air. The relationship between the pirates and prisoners further waylaid me. There's a sequence that rivals the maritime brotherhood in "Jaws" than anything close to "United 93." Greengrass's film did the unthinkable, it sympathized with the hijackers. However, there's not as much of that here as they are never the focus of any given scene. In any case, "A Hijacking" merits enrollment in that high-class of practical thrillers for these reasons and more.

"We can't rush these people. Time is a Western thing. It means nothing to them."
- Connor Julian


CONTENT: some language, some strong violence, mature themes

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