★★★ / ★★★★
A Danish cargo ship on its way to Mumbai is seized by a group of Somali pirates. Though Orion Seaways has been made aware of the situation, several days pass by without any demand for ransom. When they finally make a move, the negotiator (Abdihakin Asgar) claims that the pirates want fifteen million dollars in exchange for the ship and the crew. However, a hostage situation expert (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) advises the CEO of the company, Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), to offer below half a million.
“Kapringen,” written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, is unlike many other movies involving a hostage situation. Though it is thrilling, it does so not through a typical arc where we grow to care eventually for the characters by getting to know them deeply throughout the ordeal. Instead, there is a level of detachment in its approach which establishes a documentary-like atmosphere and sticks with it down to the very last second.
Worth noticing is the technique involving the phone calls between Ludvigsen and the negotiator. Each time the two communicate, the camera focuses on one side. In order to build the suspense, the camera focuses on a face—whether it be on Ludvigsen attempting to be tough and professional in a room full of men observing his every move, the cook (Pilou Asbæk) who is willing to beg his boss to pay up so he can see his family again, or Omar, the only Somali on board who can speak English and therefore the intermediary. By keeping it close and tight, we are forced to be in the moment and experience the pressure.
The picture is surprising in that it is willing to humanize the pirates. It is easy to paint them as gun-wielding, trigger-happy psychopaths. Instead, we get a few scenes showing the pirates and crew interacting as if there were not in a hostage situation. The fishing scene stands out because for a couple of minutes the two groups forget that one is in power and the other is being dominated. Their focus is on the activity, both groups are allowed to feel joy, exhilaration and camaraderie, and so there is a release in the tension.
When it is silent, a lot is said. The buzzing of the fly is a frequent symbol of foreshadowing and it is appropriate here considering that just about anyone in the crew is disposable. In addition, when the fly is followed to be swatted, notice that the camera moves but it does so in a fluid way. We are allowed to look at the surroundings—how increasingly filthy each room has become over the weeks of standstill.
“A Hijacking” may not be a flashy suspense-thriller but it is without a doubt an effective one. Its closing scenes are designed to stick in the mind of the audiences. I found them to be admirable and ambitious because with many movies of its type, once the good guys have won and the bad guys have gone cold, endings are thrown away like the whole experience has been nothing, just empty calories. Here, I appreciated that the material dares to take its time to deliver closing sequences that feel appropriate and that what he had seen has some value. If only more movies, no matter the genre, can follow its footsteps.