There’s lots of tension and suspense in A Highjacking (2012), a ripped-from-the-headlines story of a cargo ship captured at sea by Somali pirates. But precisely because it’s not where you’d expect that tension to be is what makes Danish director Tobias Lindholm’s second feature so believable and so good.
This is not an ordinary action thriller. Action, in the genre sense, is entirely absent; we never even see the vessel under assault and being boarded. Nor are we bothered by unnecessary distractions. Lindholm gives us only the most minimal essentials, showing that even tedium, done properly, can be as riveting as the most suspense-driven scenes.
The Danish vessel MV Rozen and its seven-man crew are on the Indian Ocean en route to Mumbai. In the opening scene we learn that the ship’s cook Mikkel (Philip Asbaek) is sailing his last voyage. The next time we’re on the ship, it’s already been taken by a band of lanky kalashnikov-toting pirates who speak no English (and whose dialogue is never subtitled).
Mikkel is selected to act as the liaison between the pirates, represented by their translator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), and Peter (Søren Malling), the shipping company’s mild-mannered and very able CEO.
The company has hired a professional hostage-taking consultant (Gary Skjoldmose Porter, who’s not an actor but an actual professional in the field) to help with the negotiations. He advises Peter to step back from the actual negotiating, advice that goes ignored. “It’s my job to bring back my men,” he insists, and takes command when the first phone call arrives, delivering a demand of $15 million. His initial counter offer is $250,000, beginning a tense protracted engagement that will last an agonizing 134 days until the film’s explosive conclusion.
Asbaek and Malling are captivating in their roles. Asbaek’s Mikkel ably illustrates the physical and mental anguish four months in squalid conditions can bring while Malling convincingly manages to walk the delicate balance between Peter the person and Peter the CEO.
As for the bad guys, Asgar is both understated and terrifying while the pirates are anything but robotic criminals who manage to elicit both sympathy and fear.
For upcoming screenings check out the film’s website.
And the trailer:
Screened at the 24th Ljubljana International Film Festival, 13-Nov-2013.