“A Hijacking” is every bit as straightforward as its title. This Danish drama depicts the seizure of a cargo ship by Somali pirates and the monthslong negotiations for the release of ship and crew, and tells this story partly through the eyes of the crew that experiences it, and partly in the corporate offices where a CEO takes charge by playing hardball, capturing the pressures on both fronts to secure the release of the ship and the seven sailors on board.
Writer-director Tobias Lindholm misses one dramatic moment as he doesn’t show much of the capture – just a radar blip, followed by skinny black men with AK-47s, on board and menacing the crew. But it’s what happens afterward that ratchets up the tension. Poor Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek) is just the cook, a new dad anxious to get home and a man comfortable with making his small crew happy, now forced to plan a menu for Muslims. These are men who often point their guns at his head as he cooks, who refuse to let him clean the galley afterwards, ruthless rubes who defer to Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), an English-speaker who insists he is merely a “translator” and “negotiator” but is plainly the thug in charge.
Back in Copenhagen, Peter (Soren Malling) is a CEO who insists on being hands-on when dealing with the terrorists. He’s a master negotiator, and he’ll only listen to the Aussie consultant (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), not leave this to “the experts.”
“You’re thinking with your heart and not your head. That’s where mistakes happen.”
Lindholm follows the rising pressure, the fear and guilt in the boardroom as Peter haggles, worries that he’s going to get people killed and that his own board will fire him as this monthslong standoff takes over his life. And we see Mikkel and the increasingly dirty, despairing crew as they struggle to befriend their captors in ways that might save their lives. Just when you think Mikkel is coping as well as can be expected, he’s forced to slaughter a goat, and the trauma of what he’s being put through becomes that much more real.
Lindholm rarely resorts to melodrama. Those wanting a thriller treatment of this sort of story, with gunplay and a righteous comeuppance for the hijackers, will have to wait for “Captain Phillips,” the Tom Hanks thriller about the seizure of the Maersk Alabama. Frankly, “A Hijacking” could use a few more of those elements.
What we have here is a gripping story rather dryly told, a somewhat frustrating essay on Scandinavian passivity without the pathos of the similarly themed Oscar-winning Danish film “In a Better World.” It’s the helplessness that gets to you.