“A Hijacking” — Not Your Hollywood-style Pirates!

Pilou Asbæk in A HIJACKING, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Kapringen”, the Danish thriller, is a gripping drama with a ripped-from-the-headlines reality. There are no Disney pirates here!  Opening on “Day One”, cargo ship MVRozen is headed to harbor on the Indian Ocean.  In a movie called “A Hijacking”, the assumption is that the count starts from the day the ship is taken, so every passing moment builds tension as we wait for the pirates to appear.  Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), the ship’s cook, goes about his daily routine as the camera follows him through the ship.  The audience scans the sea, anticipating approaching danger and holds their breath at each turn of the corridor.

There’s a quick scene change to Copenhagen and the shipping offices, where another drama is unfolding. Peter, the company CEO is called in to close a tough negotiation with a Japanese firm.   Adjusting his tie and pulling down the sleeves in his crisp business suit, Peter (Soren Malling) is calm and in control.  As the celebration begins at headquarters, the action cuts to the hijacking already in progress.

The tension increases as the audience shares the uncertainty of the crew — there is no translation for the Somalian pirates.  The crew has been separated — and no one, not the three crew members trapped in the galley, not the men in the boardroom, nor the audience, knows their fate.  Conditions on board the ship worsen and supplies dwindle as the company management team consults with a negotiation specialist.  The families are brought in to be informed and coached on what to say to the media.  Everyone is in crisis management mode and the team is assembled.  The drama onboard is mirrored in the conference rooms.  Peter must hold his emotions in check in the tense phone calls with the pirate’s negotiator.  On the other end of the line, a tormented Mikkel has a rifle at his neck.

The toll of the hijacking is driven home as Peter, previously calm and collected, loses his temper with his wife.  And when gunshots are heard over the phone as negotiations break down, he leaves the conference room struggling to maintain his composure.  Collapsing into a chair, alone, emotionally shattered, he may have gotten someone killed.  The effect of the hijacking takes a physical and psychological toll on the ship’s crew as the pirates play cruel games tormenting them with guns.  The days tick by with no relief from the heat or from stench of their sweating bodies and the single pot they are forced to relieve themselves in.  Interactions with the pirates are fraught with danger as they try to hold on to some dignity and beg for some fresh air.  Oceans away from the sanitized pirate movies of Disney fare, these young Somalian pirates are clearly desperate and not to be crossed.

The few moments of brevity only serve to drive home how insane the situation has become.  When the prisoners are finally allowed out for air (Day 147), they catch a fish and everyone becomes wild with joy — even sending the fish around to be kissed!  By focusing the film on two men, the contrast between the corporate world (and access to clean, pressed shirts) and that of captivity and the hard (and messy) work that is the life at sea is brought into sharp relief.   Both men have been hijacked: Peter, losing his composure and control of his company, and Mikkel, losing his sanity; tormented by thoughts of his family and desperate for freedom.  Both men have lost control: of their lives, their livelihoods, and perhaps even their minds when a few desperate men with guns take over the ship.  Tobias Lindholm has directed a well-crafted thriller that keeps the tension building, and there are excellent performances by the leads, including the engineer played by Roland Moller.  Hijacking; a concept that most people can only imagine based on the headlines, is in “Kapringen” made real; a tragedy for everyone involved.

Rating: Instead of “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” — 4 shots of Danish whiskey, neat

*One small quibble: men who’ve been in captivity on strict rations usually lose their pot bellies and their muscle tone.

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