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'A Hijacking' pares the hostage thriller down to its essence

The Danish drama "A Hijacking" calmly depicts a hostage situation that drags on for several grueling, dirty months.

Roland Moller and Pilou Asbaek play hostages in the Danish drama "A Hijacking." Credit: Magnolia Pictures Roland Moller and Pilou Asbaek play hostages in the Danish drama "A Hijacking."
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘A Hijacking’
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Stars: Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

The Danish drama/semi-thriller “A Hijacking” takes two genres Hollywood has regularly made into fun jaunts and reduces them to their weary, grimy, pee-soaked essence. It’s a pirate movie and it’s a hostage movie, but the pirates are real, modern-day, scary Somali hijackers. They ruthlessly board and take over a random cargo ship in the Indian Ocean, threatening and frightening its crew and demanding an extravagant $15 million from their Copenhagen bosses. In most movies, one crew member (perhaps a former-Special Forces star-turned-cook played by Steven Seagal) would prove heroic. Failing that, at least the powers that be would quickly work out a deal.

Instead, the cook (Pilou Asbaek) is a scruffy family man who easily (if unhappily) obeys his captors. The CEO (Soren Malling) back in Copenhagen plays hard-to-get, and the pirates do likewise. “This could last a month, or a year,” says the pirates’ strangely affable negotiator — an estimation that initially sounds like hyperbole. Sure enough, months and months drag on, weighing on the crew and the cleanliness of what has become their rusty prison.

Jumping between fetid cargo ship and the cold white decor of the corporate offices, the film stays eerily calm and level-headed. It’s downright ostentatious about being light (if not free) of action and emotion and, inevitably, it’s all the more gripping because of it. The pirates, save their avuncular spokesman, remain unknowable (and unsubtitled), and so do most of the Danish crew. The cook, Mikkel, is the one with whom we get the most acquainted, the one who is the most psychologically, if not physically, torture. His captors threaten his life or exploit the fact he has a family infrequently, and only when it will make maximum emotional impact on his moneyed superiors.

Emotions, avers one character, lead to mistakes, a lesson writer-director Tobias Lindholm takes to heart. Indeed, the few times it fumbles are when it tries for something more than cool calculation. Even a stripped-down docudrama this ascetic could never end cleanly, and indeed it doesn’t — in a way that’s as manipulative as any standard drama. And while having the CEO act like a breaking robot — and played by a pinched-looking actor — might add some character, it’s the kind of corporate bashing that’s easy, however earned it is.

 
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