No one goes around blowing up things and yelling “Yippee-ki-yay” in A Hijacking, the Danish drama about modern-day piracy. The action is psychological; the heroics are quiet. (The upcoming Tom Hanks vehicle Captain Phillips covers similar ground, albeit in more predictable Hollywood fashion if the film’s trailer is any indication.) En route to Mumbai, the cargo ship MV Rozen is seized by Somali renegades, who demand a king’s ransom in return for the safety of the ship’s seven-man crew. The negotiations that ensue between the corporate offices in Copenhagen and the pirates in the Indian Ocean follow the give-and-take of everyday business deals, with one important qualification. Here, the goods are human beings.
Two points of view dominate the tense narrative in A Hijacking: the captured vessel’s amiable cook, Mikkel Hartmann (Asbæk), and the maritime company’s hands-on CEO, Peter Ludvigsen (Malling). Both actors are superb. At the outset, the two characters share a common interest, but as the bartering drags on for months, the uncertainty of an outcome drives a wedge between the two men. From Mikkel’s perspective, the corporate leadership’s failure to quickly resolve the situation becomes a crime as heinous as the act of piracy itself. From Peter’s perspective, the need to keep the upper hand is critical in obtaining the release of his employees. Interestingly, the Somalis’ viewpoint is never broached. They simply trigger the dramatic action, exhibiting relatable qualities only in the guise of their negotiator, Omar (Asgar), a shrewd player in this criminal business. But their presence is nonetheless terrifying. One minute, the pirates enthusiastically cheer as a hostage reels in the evening’s dinner; the next minute, one of them points a semi-automatic weapon at the same man’s head as a bargaining chip. It’s a mindfuck that takes its toll on both the captive and the viewer.
Director/screenwriter Lindholm guides A Hijacking with a sure hand. He never allows the film to stray into sentimentality or cater to cliches. Given his accomplished work here, he’s earned a place in the new vanguard of Scandinavian filmmakers (which includes Nicolas Winding Refn and Tomas Alfredson, among others). When the gut-wrenching conclusion of A Hijacking comes in the form of a single, random act, it’s only then you realize how far you’ve been pulled into its emotional core. It’s a staggering moment, one for which you may not be fully prepared. It’s a moment that differentiates the merely good from the very good.