A Hijacking ~ Non-Spoiler Review

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Photo montage of scenes from A Hijacking. Central image is the theatrical poster for the film

🇩🇰 A HIJACKING 🇩🇰

A HIJACKING (2012) aka Kapringen is a Danish drama-thriller film. Danish, English and Somali are spoken. Subtitles. Free on Amazon Prime U.K. US; FlixFling Can; SBS On Demand Aus. 15 Cert U.K.

Premise:

“The cargo ship MV Rozen is heading for harbour when it is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Amongst the men on board are the ship’s cook Mikkel and the engineer Jan, who along with the rest of the seamen are taken hostage in a cynical game of life and death. With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company and the Somali pirates.” Production

Cast:

Pilou Asbæk as Mikkel Hartmann
Søren Malling as Peter C. Ludvigsen
Dar Salim as Lars Vestergaard
Roland Møller as Jan Sørensen
Gary Skjoldmose Porter as Connor Julian
Abdihakin Asgar as Omar
Amalie Ihle Alstrup as Maria Hartmann
Keith Pearson as Captain
Allan Arnby as Niels Giversen

A Hijacking theatrical poster

Crew:

Director: Tobias Lindholm
Cinematographer: Magnus Nordenhof Jønck
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Music: Hildur GuĂ°nadĂłttir
Editor: Adam Nielsen
Sound: Morten Green
Costume: Louise Hauberg
Make-Up: Louise Hauberg

Notes:

The scenes on the ship were filmed in Mombasa, Kenya and all the pirates are played by local Somalis (local hire with only one cast beforehand).

The phone calls between Peter (Søren Malling) and Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) were filmed as actual conference calls between Malling in Denmark and Asbæk in Kenya.

A Hijacking has, apparently, been shown widely to corporations eager to see how such incidents should be handled.

Hildur GuĂ°nadĂłttir is the Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA-winning Icelandic, composer.

⚠️ This review contains some mild spoilers ⚠️

A Hijacking theatrical poster

Review:

As an admirer of other projects by Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt, Borgen, The Investigation etc.) it felt remiss not to have watched A Hijacking. This, combined with a cast including Søren Malling, Pilou Asbæk and Dar Salim, all firm favourites, made it a “must watch”. I was aware that this film had won awards and had been generally very well received but what would I feel about it?

The “action” of A Hijacking takes place in just two locations, in the offices of the shopping company in Copenhagen, where Peter C. Ludvigsen is the CEO, and onboard the good ship MV Rozen, where Mikkel Hartmann is the ship’s cook. We do not see the actual pirates boarding and this is in and of itself unimportant to the story, which is about a negotiation and the toll it takes on everybody involved (more of this in a bit).

Let us take a look at the major players in this story, Peter and Mikkel and then onto the important roles that Omar the pirate’s negotiator and other characters play.

Søren Malling as Peter C. Ludvigsen in A Hijacking

Peter is shown from the outset to be a highly adept negotiator in his handling of a shipping purchase deal with a Japanese company which Lars Verstergaard is unable to close. It is an interesting parallel to look at the pressures exerted by this sort of monetary deal compared to one that is about securing the very lives of the ship’s company. Peter from the outset of the hijacking being reported refuses to hand over control or responsibility to anyone else, it is his ship and his crew! He works with a trained negotiator but as we see can maintain a measured position… Until he cannot…

Dad Salim as Lars Vestergaard in A Hijacking

We see how he is willing to face and speak to relatives of the crew directly (no hiding behind some spokesman for our Peter). As the protracted negotiations progress we see the enormous psychological and, to a lesser extent, physical toll (lack of sleep) this has on him and upon his relationship with his wife. We can see and feel the pressure he is under through the tremendous writing and the way Søren Malling plays this role. You can see why he won awards! The saving grace for Peter compared to those on the ship is that he has clean facilities around him, clean clothes to wear and food when hungry. Because things on the ship are not pretty…

Pilou Asbæk as Mikkel Hartmann in A Hijacking

The main focus character onboard the ship is Mikkel, the slightly portly, good-humoured cook who has the special ingredient of “love” in what he cooks. From the beginning of the film his relationship with the crew and, even more importantly with his wife and child (who he has not seen in months) is established. We see pretty everything that happens during the pirate control of the ship through Mikkel, the progressively worsening conditions, the extreme physical, psychological and emotional toll. We see him lose weight, care for the sick captain, speaking to his family, being petrified with fright, being used to leverage those back in Copenhagen, enduring mock execution… Will poor Mikkel ever be the same man after this? This is a question we are encouraged to ask ourselves. And by the same token will any of the rest of the crew? This is a phenomenal award-worthy performance by Pilou Asbæk!!

Pilou Asbæk (left) as Mikkel Hartmann and Abdihakin Asgar (right) as Omar in A Hijacking

The negotiator for the pirates, Omar, is an interesting and somewhat conflicted character coming over rather as Peter does at the start, that this is a business negotiation (no hard feelings, it isn’t personal). One thing he reiterates is that he is NOT a pirate himself, he is merely their negotiator and would really like to get home himself (no doubt he is being well-paid though).

Other characters to consider are Lars (in Copenhagen) who although in the background is a big support to Peter and able to make his own, worthwhile contributions to the negotiations. He does understand what makes people tick. Back on board, there is the ship’s captain an unwell, very experienced and nice guy and Jan with whom Mikkel builds a very close mutually supportive relationship.

Roland Møller as Jan Sørensen (left) and Pilou Asbæk as Mikkel Hartmann (right) in A Hijacking

The pressure builds, is eased and then reaches peaks that are horrendous to contemplate and it is this pressure and tension which is so deftly created on-screen by Tobias Lindholm. The film itself comes over as semi-documentary in style (for example those who have seen The Investigation will recognise this) and is very realistic. This is not a Hollywood all singing all dancing action hijacking movie, in fact, there isn’t much “action” at all. This is a cold light of day “reconstruction” of a hijacking and the negotiations that go on to secure the vessel but FAR more importantly the lives of the whole crew for an acceptable amount of money.

I loved the direction and cinematography in this and the music and soundtrack are amazing! The editing really helps convey the atmosphere and keeps the cohesion. There are points where the pacing flags but I think that this is very deliberate as it mirrors real life. This is a film that could actually be presented on stage and still work extremely well (as does The Hunt).

One of the most enjoyable scenes in this is the catching of the fish (as an aside a BIG shout out to Roland Møller’s biceps and tattoos in this!) where everybody on board, crew and pirates alike rejoice in the catch and kiss the fish! Bearing in mind they have pretty much run out of food by this point. The goats… are another tale… Many scenes are unbearably tense but I will say that I too felt the enormous tension but also the sense of relief at various stages of the negotiations.

A Hijacking left me on the brink of tears at times, in fact, to be perfectly honest it made me cry partly from the release of tension but also… well… things happen… Can I recommend this movie? If you only want an action movie about a hijacking with, I don’t know, helicopters and an abseiling Tom Cruise (other action hero types can be substituted) and not a hyper-realistic, documentary in style, slow-burning and intense film then this will probably not be the movie for you. However, if you enjoy slow-burn, realistic, intense drama then this will be a must-watch for your list.

Awards:

16 wins and 26 nominations including ~

Bodil (2013) Best Film (+3 nominations)
Robert (2013) Best Film; Best Actor ~ Søren Malling; Best Screenplay ~ Tobias Lindholm; Best Editor ~ Adam Nielsen; Best Sound ~ Morten Green (+8 nominations)
Göteborg Film Festival (2013) Best Nordic Film
Les Arcs European Film Festival (2012) Best Actor ~ Søren Malling; Crystal Arrow ~ Tobias Lindholm

Trailer:

Interview with Pilou Asbæk and Søren Malling about working on A Hijacking with Tobias Lindholm:

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