‘A Hijacking': Saving Lives, or Saving Money?

A Hijacking dir. Tobias Lindholm, Denmark, 2012, 99 minutes

at Film Forum

Somali pirates are off center-stage for the moment, with battles raging in Syria and “stable” countries like Turkey clearing away secular protesters with fire hoses.

But there’s drama on the high seas, on the screen at least, in A Hijacking, a thriller by the Danish writer/director Tobias Lindholm — with teams of cadaverous armed Somali men seizing ships bound for Europe, and the wealthy countries  of the West stymied as they’re shaken down for millions of dollars and their sailors – often Indians from the armies of outsourcing – are  held and killed.

When Worlds Collide - "A Hijacking"

On the seas of the Somali coast a Danish ship is stormed by pirates just as the ship’s owners, back in metal-on-glass corporate suites in Copenhagen, are strong-arming costs downward in a deal with a Japanese firm.

Soon the negotiations shift to playing high-stakes bargaining with the pirates. It’s a boardroom war of attrition, by telephone,  between businessmen and armed thugs. The pirates demand a huge sum, and the ship owners stall, leaving lives at stake on their ship. It’s a wrenching drama on both ends, with Lindholm exploiting the parallel visual textures of two contemporary battlefields. In the balance (or imbalance), Lindholm has shown us a new reality of war. Lives are risked (often lost) transporting, seizing and saving corporate property. At the core is a dilemma – do the ship owners choose to save lives, or to save money?  It has a Rumsfeld ring to it. “I’ll talk to my board about that,” says Soren Malling, who plays a chagrined CEO who assumed that he had the ballsiness for this fight.

Now What? The Skipper of a Shipping Firm in Uncharted Waters - Soren Malling in "A Hijacking"

Filming in enclosed spaces – the corporate office and the ship – A Hijacking has theatrical tautness in its depiction of men with no room to move, under pressure to show who’s stronger in circumstances for which they have no experience. We see how strong or weak some of them are.

(Pilou Asbaek plays the ship’s ill-fated cook, forced to be a go-between when the kidnappers’ negotiator is on the line to Copenhagen – Asbaek got an apprenticeship in rawness in R, Lindholm’s first feature (which he co-directed), a prison movie. One man’s ship cabin is another man’s prison cell.)

A Hijacking is also coldly cinematic as Lindholm silhouettes men (and they are almost all men) against the ocean and against the faceless indifference of corporate interiors. Think of a twist on Margin Call, with the terrorists demanding payment from capital providers. Then imagine something without the celebrity pirouettes that American films tend to demand.

Hollywood Is Likely To Be On the Horizon for Writer/Director Tobias Lindholm

Scenes on the ship have the hurried look of a documentary in which filmmakers are rushing to keep up with action that’s out of their control, but still as tactile as sweat. Be thankful that you can’t smell what’s being shot, as the hostages use the corner of their cabin for a toilet. The documentary dimension to this film doesn’t end there. The story is based on actual events. Involving a Danish ship. Lindholm used the same ship for filming. He also pre-empted plenty of doc filmmakers with his subject.  The Project (Tribeca 2013) is one that followed.

Watch also for Captain Phillips, a drama at seas based on real events (this year’s Private Ryan?), directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks, for September release.

A Hijacking does not look like the Danish films from Lars von Trier and company that have made Denmark a place that we look to for originality. Lindholm has tapped into raw emotion, and into the his country’s acting talent. He seems poised with this film to go the way of fellow Dane Nicolas Winding Refn, into studio filmmaking with the gestural flourishes of an auteur, and perhaps deeper into that commercial  world than Refn has gone so far. Those of us who’ve admired A Hijacking will hold Lindholm to a high standard, hoping that his career isn’t what gets hijacked after this early achievement. Good luck.

Views expressed on this blog, which is hosted on BlouinArtinfo.com but produced independently of it, do not necessarily reflect the views of BlouinArtinfo.com.