Sunday 29 December 2013

Review: A Hijacking

Year: 2013
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Screenplay: Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Søren Malling, Pilou Asbaek, Abdihakin Asgar

Synopsis is here

I must admit it’s a little unexpected to write about two Somalian hijacking films in the same year. It’s not really the type of subject you expect people to pull focus on. But it seems that 2013 quietly became the year of the pirates.*

Hollywood typically nabbed some top class British talent, a massive movie star and gave us the everyman over adversity narrative that the studios do so well. While Captain Phillips is the kind of physical, slap in the face affair you’d expect from its makers, A Hijacking is a more distilled creature that creeps up on a willing viewer. Like Chinese water torture, it’s a slow and quiet decent into various dimensions of torment. The film shows just how destabilising a long running hostage crisis could be. At first I questioned the need for title cards counting the days. Once we start to reach treble figures, it becomes near impossible to comprehend the pressure.

We see the complex strains of the shipping company’s relationships from the get go. The first scene captures the ships cook, Mikkel (Malling) already feeling the burden of being so far from his wife and child. He has to inform her that he’ll be away for a while longer. Meanwhile; miles away on land, the companies CEO; Peter (Asbaek), is on shaky ground conducting tough business affairs with an Asian office. It’s clear he can play hard ball, but possibly not as strongly as he hopes. Once hijacking occurs (off screen), the reason why become evident. It’s important to note that these opening moments are more economic and effective in their execution than the more perfunctory opening act of Captain Phillips. More already feels at stake.  

The strength of A Hijacking stems from how it deals with the politics of the situation. We observe tired men putting their bargaining expertises to the maximum. The crew struggle to keep on an even keel, while the kidnaper’s turn the screw with psychological war ware.   The translator and lead negotiator; Omar (Asgar), is an insidious beast, who claims he’s just as under the cosh as the shipmates, yet as the only portal their home life, his restrictions on the most basic of necessities become intolerable. There’s hardly any psychical violence and there doesn’t need to be, as the emotion of fear runs rife through the victims involved.

Back home; the clinical offices become secondary homesteads and pressure soon rises to boiling point. These sequences become vital as Peter tackles not only the worried families of those at sea, but the stern uncaring faces of those higher than him. As the situation drags on, both parties ask when things will be resolved, for two entirely different reasons. The film’s mean strength becomes a slight weakness as we’re forced to believe that Peter as a CEO is as caring about his crew as he is. Considering our real life political issues right now, one could feel that Peter’s unwavering stance could feel false. So much so it loses some of its complexity.

Never the less, A Hijacking wins us over with a succession of scenes that plough us through the wringer. The performances never miss a beat and the unpretentious direction only enhances the urgency and reality of the piece.  The film never loses its sombre tone and while quieter than Captain Phillips, A Hijacking holds scenes that penetrate the nerves like a slow acting poison. By the end of the film, we need little reminding that the scars still remain. When looking back at the films strongest scenes, it’s then we noticed just how distressing the filmmakers made singing happy birthday.  But that’s what makes A Hijakcing so effective. Without the Hollywood muscle and the Navy brawn, we get something a lot colder. The title sinisterly tells us that this isn’t just a physical undertaking, but an emotional one.

*Pirates that do not impersonate rock stars