AFI Review: A HIJACKING

A review of the tense Danish negotiation procedural.

Somali pirates take a Danish shipping vessel in the tense negotiation procedural A Hijacking. Tobias Lindholm’s film feels meticulous in its examination of a hijacking situation, never surrendering to cheap thrills to keep the story going forward.

There are two leads; on the boat Ryan Dunn lookalike Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbæk) is the ship’s cook and also the pirate’s chosen communicator. Back in Denmark, where the shipping company is headquartered, super negotiator CEO Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) has, against the advice of his hired expert, decided to handle the talks himself. The film pings back and forth, ratcheting up the tension and despair for both men as the ordeal stretches out for days, weeks and eventually months.

Watching A Hijacking you think two things: one, this is probably exactly what such a situation is like, and two, doesn’t Denmark have a single goddamned military unit available to extract these people? Don’t expect some sort of exciting raid to end this stand-off; A Hijacking is more interested in the psychological pressures and factors in an extreme and long-term negotiation more than anything.

The movie makes an interesting choice in that it keeps the Somali pirates as complete and total others. While there are moments where Stockholm Syndrome sets in for the crew, the general language barrier (we never see the Somali dialogue subtitled) keeps them emotionally distant from their captors. There’s a translator, a guy named Omar who claims to not be with the pirates, but the movie never makes clear his real position. I love that about it - the ambiguity is extraordinary.

Lindholm’s film edges right up to being exhausting; there’s not much room for levity in the proceedings. The increasingly dingy surroundings of the captives are contrasted with the super-clean, ultra-corporate environs of the negotiator war room, neither being inviting or warm. These are, each in their own way, oppressive places to spend a movie. The slowness of the negotiations - protracted doesn’t even begin to describe it - grinds on the audience much as it grinds on the negotiators.

The film comes to almost an anti-climax, but that seems to be a reflection of Lindholm’s constant search for realism. I like that about the movie; A Hijacking feels real. It also feels like a powerful primer in how to negotiate, something that anybody looking for a raise or to free hostages should watch. 

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