Thursday, June 27, 2013

High tension aboard a cargo ship

A Danish film follows a hijacking that puts its characters to the test.

We've grown so accustomed to amped-up thrillers that we may have lost our taste for real tension, the unease that grows from a situation that's truly terrifying, perhaps even life-threatening. I wondered about that while watching Danish director Tobias Lindholm's exceptional new movie, A Hijacking.

As the title suggests, Lindholm's movie focuses on a cargo ship that has been hijacked by Somali pirates. Rather than over-dramatize an already fraught situation, Lindholm offers a deliberately constructed depiction of the events that transpire as the company that owns the ship tries to negotiate for the crew's freedom.

The company's CEO (Soren Malling) goes against the advice of an American terrorism consultant (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), and decides to handle the negotations himself. These sporadic talks require Ludvigsen's character to speak with Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the Somali who functions as spokesman for the pirates. The CEO and Omar speak to each other in English.

Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek) becomes the story's main crew member, a genial fellow who works as the ship's cook and who's looking forward to returning home to his wife and young daughter after a stint at sea.

A Hijacking depicts the humiliations suffered by a small crew that's reliant on the ship's ownership to come up with a sum the pirates will accept. The negotiations take place via telephone with Omar speaking from the ship and the CEO, from a sterile meeting room at the company's Copenhagen headquarters. As events unfold, Ludvigsen's usually successful character begins to see the limitations of the negotiating abilities on which he prides himself.

At times, the Danish crew develops friendly relations with its captors, a group that mostly seems focused on the bottom line and that can seem as eager as their captives to get off the increasingly debilitated ship. Food supplies are dwindling, and sanitary conditons are worsening by the day.

Without fanfare or phony histrionics, Lindholm has given us an entirely credible depiction of a commercial environment in which a large corporation must learn how to come to grips with a world in which not everyone plays by the rules. Payouts may become a standard part of doing business, and the company's CEO is intent on partinjg with as little money as possible.

To his credit, Lindholm trusts his audience enough to let these points emerge without underscoring, thus earning a place for A Hijacking as one of the year's most absorbing movies. Most thrillers are not to be believed: This one is.

No comments: