Monday, 17 June 2013


Writer/director Tobias Lindhom signals his intentions right at the beginning of his powerful A Hijacking, shown as part of the Nordicana festival. It's the story of a Danish merchant ship taken by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The film actually opens with Peter C Ludvigsen, the CEO of the shipping company called into a meeting with a Japanese firm they are looking to buy. They want to spend less than $15 million; the Japanese are holding firm at $21m. We see Ludvigsen begin his negotiations; then we see him afterwards, the deal done for $14.5m. And soon after, he is called out of a meeting to learn about the hijacking.

In this country, reviewers praised the lack of a 'Hollywood' hijacking, as if by not being Under Siege European films were automatically superior. You might be forgiven for expecting that, given the film's UK poster, but having assured themselves this wasn't Steven Seagle, they seemed to assume the movie was some sort of docu-drama, and paid little attention to its opening and the thrust that it portends, and continues. This is crucial, because A Hijacking (an odd mistranslation, since the Danish title, Kapringen, would be THE Hijacking--but Lindholm himself explained in Sight & Sound that they chose to translate with the indefinite article to distinguish themselves from 'the action genre' and to 'signal objectivity', which obviously cued the British critical response. It's good value from one indefinite article!) belongs firmly in the tradition of films like Inheritance, Exit, or even Headhunters; films in which the demands of big business challenge the concept of personal ethics within the traditional societal morality of Scandinavia. Its Danish poster makes that clear, and, in this sense, A Hijacking is really two films, one dealing with the prisoners' dilemma, and the other with the negotiation.

The prisoners' story (we see only the three white prisoners, the other four are kept separately, which we must assume is an interesting bit of Somalian racial profiling) is one of fear, uncertainty, and claustrophobia. Lindholm's first feature film, R, was a prison drama (which I have not yet seen, but now will!) which also starred Pilou Asbaek, who will be familiar to Borgen viewers, and who is absolutely excellent in his roller-coaster emotional ride as the ship's cook Mikkel—indeed, it is a small act of relief for him at film's end which turns out to have tragic results. Most telling is his relation with his captors—there is a scene where he and crewmate Jan catch a plaice, and it almost appears a form of Stockholm Syndrome, call it Copenhagen Syndrome, is in the offing.

This turns out to be false however. The hijackers live through the power of the gun, and Asbaek turns out to be manipulated even more cynically by Omar (Abdihakin Asger), their negotiator, as we see they are by the shipping company back home.

That is because this is a negotiation, and thus a personal battle for Peter and for Omar too. Peter's played with great inward control by Soren Malling, and his assistant Lars by Dar Salin. They too are veterans of Borgen, which should not be surprising because Lindholm was a writer on that show (he also co-scripted The Hunt, which I still see as an Oscar nominee in 2014, read my London Film Festival review here) and one of the key themes of Borgen is the area where ego, where personal motivation, leeches into the demands of the business of politics.

Peter, and his company, make a great show to the families of their crew of caring about the safety of the men. At first, we can ascribe the hard-line they take with the Somalis to the outside expert they've called in, named Connor Julian and played by Gary Skjoldmose Porter, who's a steroided and tattooed guy with an Australian accent and a Berkeley T shirt. The point is he isn't Danish.

But we soon see that Peter has gone into his own negotiation mode, and this becomes, in a sense a personal battle. Not just with Omar—conducted over ship to shore radio, which heightens the tension but keeps the focus on each man individually—but with himself, and perhaps his instincts. Julian is there to help keep him from getting emotional over his men, but Peter actually needs little help to forget that. His mantra is that negotiating involves 'knowing the opposition', but the reality is he knows little about them. What he does know is Omar is another negotiator, and the men are his only leverage.

As the days mount up, indicated by captions which seem to increase geometrically, the pressure grows, and the key scene comes from Peter's wife visits him in his office. He's been separated from her almost as fully as Mikkel has from his wife. She wakes him on his office couch and we see he is sleeping in a sleeveless T-shirt, the same uniform Mikkel wears. He is vulnerable, but he dresses in his suit in the same way warriors don armour, and by the time he is fully dressed he has gone into warrior mode, and he sends his wife away brutally.

The deal is finally done, not without tragedy, and Mikkel is reunited with his wife and daughter in a spare office room, a touching scene which plays out the difficulty of his return to his former world. Meanwhile, Peter, having handled the difficult duty of notifying a family of a death, finally leaves the offices. The film's last shot is of the garage doors closing down, like prison gates. The question is whether Peter has escaped his own prison of business and negotiation, or whether is he always going to be captive there.

A Hijacking is on general release 

NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

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