Saturday, August 03, 2013

A Hijacking – Tobias Lindholm

A Hijacking (Kapringen) (Tobias Lindholm – Denmark) 103 minutes

It’s a bit surprising a film based on Somali pirates’ hijacking of cargo vessels has not arrived until now. It is also a little unexpected that it has come from Denmark, courtesy of Tobias Lindholm, writer of the TV show Borgen, who has beaten Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips to the punch. A Hijacking recounts the 2007 taking of the MV Rozen, a Danish ship on its way to Mumbai. The actual ship is used in the film and certain personnel, such as the shipping company’s head of security during ransom negotiations, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, take acting roles.

The hijacking itself takes place offscreen and the film focuses rather on the negotiations; the action is divided between two locales. One is the Copenhagen offices of the Clipper Group, whose CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling of The Killing) takes the matter in hand, against the advice of his security consultant Connor Julian (Skjoldmose Porter), who fears Ludvigsen’s emotional investment could jeopardise the negotiations. The other is the ship itself, where the cook Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) is thrust into the role of intermediary by the pirates’ translator (or perhaps leader?) Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). The mechanics of the negotiations are the subject matter so there is no interrogation of what pushes Somali fishermen to become pirates, and little of the Somali dialogue is translated. This is fair enough, as the film needs a subjective view for it to work as a thriller.

A Hijacking is tense and effective and it excels in parts but it oddly feels like it belongs more on the small screen (ironic given Danish TV shows such as Borgen have a more cinematic scope than many traditional drama series). The film starts convincingly, as the negotiations begin in the early days of the hijacking but as the months go by, we lose sight of some of the ordeal’s debilitating effects. The Copenhagen scenes are handled a bit better than those on the ship – we see the strain working on Ludvigsen, who practically sets up camp in his office as the hijacking takes over his life. The ship scenes, which are filmed in a more documentary style, are at times impressive but the squalor in which the crew are living is cursorily dealt with and the captain, who is first announced to be seriously ill, manages to pull through the four months well enough. Though the security adviser says early on that things needn’t be rushed and that ‘time is a Western thing – it means nothing to them [the pirates]’ you sense that you are missing something from the negotiations. It’s a bit like cutting to a dish being taken out of the oven in a cookery programme. For this reason, you wonder if spreading it out over two or three episodes of a TV programme might have been better.

A Hijacking has been garnering rave reviews but like Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt from last year (which Lindholm co-wrote) it feels like a topical story in search of a movie. You can’t fault the technical qualities, and Lindholm keeps the suspense up till the very end; ultimately though it is like most Danish films that are not made by Lars Von Trier: solid and well-mannered but lacking the spark of great cinema.