If you enjoy the way that Steven Soderbergh does his movies then you’re going to enjoy A Hijacking, the best Soderbergh movie that Soderbergh never did. This is not to belittle director Tobias Lindholm’s presentation in the least. It’s just that five minutes into this film I knew I was going to like it, because I like Soderbergh’s films very much and the matter-of-fact manner in which Lindholm constructed A Hijacking had me keep going back to films like Traffic, Contagion and Haywire. Film has a distinct documentary-of-the-moment feel, that relies on Lindholm’s documentarian mentality and the roundly good portrayals by the cast.
Lindholm takes no sides in this telling of a hijacking of a Danish cargo ship by Somali pirates deep in the Indian Ocean. It takes people who are used to such occurrences by surprise because it’s such a distance away from the Horn of Africa. Everything that unfolds afterward is not only highly believable and real world, but logical. There’s no commando raid planned and the Somali’s aren’t Muslim terrorists (at least not presented as such here) or some other overused stereotype. They have their very definite motivations – namely money – just as the Danish company, and it’s CEO, Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling) have theirs: the safe retrieval of their men and their ship…at the lowest possible price.
The crew’s POV is told from that of ship’s cook, Mikkel Hartmann. His story is any one of ours: a husband and father on his last deployment, looking to get home to his family, when the unthinkable happens and a long nightmare begins. He’s played with much sympathy by Pilou Asbaek. It’s Mikkel that’s going to get the worst of things and with Asbaek, you’re feeling for the dude every second he’s on screen. The pirates are headed up by a Somali man named Omar (Abdihikan Asgar), although he would have us believe otherwise, rather, that he’s simply a negotiator. Omar is even-keeled, experienced and not prone to bullshitting. You definitely get the feeling this ain’t his first barbecue.
On the flipside, Malling is superb as Ludvigsen. Ludvigsen is a stuffed shirt, Type A sort who’s deliberate and forceful in his business dealings and highly experienced in the art of negotiations. He’s never not in control, so much so that he ignores the advice of his piracy expert, Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) when he suggest that Ludvigsen employ a middleman who’s used to negotiating with pirates. Julian already knows what Ludvigsen either doesn’t know or won’t accept: that this is going to be a protracted negotiation. Likewise, that the fate of his men will squarely be in Ludvigsen’s hands, and no one else’s. Ludvigsen accepts those terms, to his later detriment and regret as things play out at a glacial pace.
What’s definitely not glacial though is the pacing of the film. This is another credit to Lindholm as there’s actually precious little action onscreen, so much so that one minute we leave the ship, get word of the hijacking in Denmark, then return to the boat and the Somalis are already in control. Lindholm yadda yadda’ed the best part, but it doesn’t matter, because the film stands (or floats as the case may be) quite well on its own without any kind of artificiality. And the lack of artificiality and set up should be expected. There’s few to no precursors in real world hijackings. If there were, the Somalis and others wouldn’t have presented the problem that they have the last decade: $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade costs according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (thanks Wikipedia!).
The bulk of the film consists of the back and forth between Ludvigsen and his support team, and Omar and the Somalis. In the meantime it’s Mikkel and his six crew mates who are suffering in the expected squalid conditions. There is oftentimes the palpable sensation of filthiness coming off those scenes. But there are believable moments of coexistence between the captors and the captured that add nice character moments, such as an impromptu fishing session and some singing. Still, even asthe crew suffers, Ludvigsen also sufferis in his own way. Not only for the situation of his property and his men and the impact that it’s having on their families, but more so at his inability to resolve the situation on his own. This is a guy who has never failed at anything in his life, and he’s most assuredly failing here.
The film steadily escalates the tension, ratcheting it up on a slow burn. There are some spikes, and a shocking occurrence, but the resolution is true to the rest of the film’s quest for real world sensibility. I say real world sensibility because I know someone, a pilot in that part of the world, who was actually taken by Somalis and held for several months. I see A Hijacking and I end up thinking I have just a little bit better sense of what kind of shit he and his family must have gone through, as well as maybe something of what it took to get him home.
A Hijacking opens in theatres on June 21.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars