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Hijacking, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Doesn't go off-course, but..."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON: Unless a filmmaker is exceptional at drawing things out and tossing in new perils when the previous threats are starting to wear thin, compact is a very good thing for a thriller to be. Another exception is when the tension is actually built out of waiting for a response; the audience actually needs to feel it drag a bit then. That's why a funny thing happens with "A Hijacking" - its crisp, efficient 99-minute runtime winds up making it feel taut and impressive as one initially watches it, but somewhat hollow as it winds down.

MV Rozen, a Danish-flagged cargo ship on the way to Mumbai, has been taken by pirates off the coast of Africa. Though advised to hire an outside negotiator by expert Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), CEO Peter Ludvgsen (Søren Malling) takes on the job himself - this is, after all, what he does. On the other end of the satellite-phone link, cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) is pressed into service as the voice of the crew by the pirates' negotiator, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), since the captain is in rough shape. It is, as all involved soon learn, a situation designed for stalemate.

The film deserves a fair amount of praise, and a great deal of it deserves to be laid at the feet of the cast. It's a talented ensemble, and nobody playing a major part takes the easy way out by playing their character as a villain or falters at making their character someone the audience can understand, no matter different his background may be from the viewer or the other characters. Pilou Asbæk plays the guy that the audience can most likely easily relate to, an everyman whose job just happens to be in the middle of the ocean, and he quickly establishes Mikkel as an affable fellow (even if he's not completely even-tempered) in the scenes before the pirates board, giving him a solid foundation to become frazzled, frightened, and angry later on. Søren Malling does a nifty trick, giving Peter a level of hubris that is undeniable without it crossing the line to arrogance or callousness. It would be easy for this hard-nosed one-percenter to become the "real villain" of the film, but he doesn't, and that's not just what writer/director Tobias Lindholm has him do but how Malling does it. Abdihakin Asgar, meanwhile, manages a neat job of playing Omar right on the line between being a reasonable person and being a guy whose job is to seem like a reasonable person. Lindholm doesn't follow him the way he does Mikkel and Peter, but that we can buy into him when we know his function is impressive.

Lindholm and his crew also put the movie together very well; there's not a detail that seems wrong. The ship is crowded and the bulkheads are rusty, and I suspect real-life sailors would say that the water outside looks to be from the right place (the shipboard scenes were shot in Kenya). The Copenhagen settings seem right, a tony corporate headquarters having to accommodate the unexpected, with a conference room being repurposed as crisis control. The steps taken seem right.

And yet, for all the cast and crew do well, there's a bit of difficulty in portraying what sort of ordeal this is. Some of it is a lack of follow-through; there's a pointed comment made early on about how the ship's fresh water reserves are low to begin with that is never really followed up, for example. More importantly, though, Lindholm seems to have a difficult time showing time passing. It's no spoiler to say that the hostage situation drags on for a long time, but the characters don't seem to get thinner or have more unkempt beards. There's little mention of what landmarks are passing in the outside world other than putting "Day X" titles up on screen, and that's just a number that seems kind of abstract when the audience needs to see something tangible, or some of the periods when nothing is happening versus when things are inching forward.

The script can be weak at points, too. A big deal is made early on about how Peter should not conduct the negotiations himself, and the extended standoff seems to support that, but there are few (if any) moments that seem to show him mis-stepping to validate this idea. Much of the ship's crew just up and disappears for long stretches of the movie, and Lindholm neither explains or makes great use of the ambiguity. And the end of the film has a bit that sits wrong, with someone doing something uncharacteristically foolish for the express purpose of muddling how the the audience feels about the resolution.

Sure, maybe those bits in the script are based on actual accounts and real-life events aren't as purposeful as scenes in a movie. It wouldn't surprise me. It doesn't make "A Hijacking" a bad movie at all, or even a below-average one; it's well-enough put together to be satisfying as one watches it, even though it's not unreasonable to want a little more afterward.

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originally posted: 05/04/13 09:23:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sarasota Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 15-Oct-2013


  DVD: 15-Oct-2013

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