I reckon when people typically think of pirates, the first image that pops in their head is Johnny Depp, head to toe as the lovable Captain Jack Sparrow, drunkenly stumbling about searching for booty while sailing the high seas singing jovial songs about rum and women. Those are the pirates we’re always shown as children – Black Beard, Captain Hook, Long John Silver, and other funny seamen who entertain us and make us laugh. But while those pirates are now outdated, the practice of pirating is still a danger to today’s commercial ships, and the reality of the situation is much graver than our childhood interpretations. Ships are still being taken captive, crews are still being taken hostage, and negotiations still have to be made – even in today’s world. If you can’t fathom this still happening, look no further than Tobias Lindholm’s gritty cinematic portrayal of Somali pirates in action, A Hijacking, and you’ll realize today’s pirates aren’t all “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum” types.
A Hijacking tells the story of the MV Rozen, a cargo ship held hostage by Somali pirates for a ransom of $15 million dollars. While all the crew are taken alive, a few men are separated from the group. Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) the cook, Jan (Roland Møller) the engineer, and the ship’s captain are thrown in a secluded room as they are more useful to the pirates. Back in Copenhagen, the pirates make contact with the boat’s parent company and present their demands, and it’s decided that the company’s CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) will handle the negotiation – despite an outside professional’s personal opinion. What plays out is a back and forth bidding war for the lives of the crew and the MV Rozen itself, told from both the safety of our CEO’s impromptu war room, and also from our hostage’s point of view aboard the boat.
I must first praise A Hijacking for the thoroughly insightful and realistic look into proper negotiation tactics, the real terror that exists with current pirate threats, and also the human element of living in third world nations which drives poverty stricken people to survive via such drastic measures. As far as thrillers go, A Hijacking had me firmly planted in my seat, anxiously anticipating each point of view switch as we flip flop from the CEO to the hostage crew. The atmospheres were drastically different, which provided a wonderful contrast as we went from a squeaky clean office to the dingy, chaotic boat, and we also got a sense of the mindset each character is stuck in.
Sure, the CEO has a tough job on his hands, but he sits safely in his cozy office miles away from danger while wearing a suit, yet Mikkel the chef is seen wearing the same pants and tank-top combo which he starts the film in, visibly tarnished and worn from the pirate’s treatment. Both sides of the negotiation are well represented, and all emotional angles are drawn upon, as the crew begs for a chance to see their family again, yet the CEO must hold strong in an attempt to hold off the pirates. It’s a hard task, but even as you’re watching, you question what your own reaction would be if one of your employees was screaming on the other end of a phone begging for his life, being held captive on a boat full of unpredictable Somali pirates.
Even more interesting was the portrayal of the Somali pirates, as Tobias Lindholm doesn’t exactly paint our intruders as total villains, but more as humans dealing with a failing situation. Yes, they are the obvious antagonists of A Hijacking, but certain scenes show our pirates as people literally taking advantage of circumstances, simply keeping the crew hostage out of necessity. We really want to hate these pirates, angry at the group for threatening the innocent crew, but then we witness scenes where the pirates are having a blast fishing with Jan and Mikkel, or drunkenly singing with the crew, and we wonder – can we really be that angry? Sure, what they’re doing is illegal, but as a poverty stricken nation, can you blame them? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing anything, pirating is wrong, but Tobias Lindholm does a magnificent job showing the pirates as both evil-doers and struggling third-world inhabitants.
Not everything appears by the books though, as the CEO’s decision to head negotiations takes a bit of realism out of the film. While I agree the decision brings more drama to the film, having someone emotionally invested in his workers negotiating for their lives, but the other half of me couldn’t get over our CEO’s decision as he adamantly disagrees with the specialist hired to advise in this very scenario. If the specialist has a laundry list of reasons why someone outside of the company should be utilized, wouldn’t you think the company would listen? Again, it’s the right cinematic play as tempers flare while a CEO argues against pirates, but this decision also kept haunting me during my viewing.
Despite my CEO qualm, A Hijacking was a tight little thriller worth every bit of anticipation. The whole modern-day pirate situation is one not utilized enough by filmmakers, but Tobias Lindholm did a great job making audiences aware of the human drama and emotional bombshells which exist during these grueling negotiations which can last weeks upon weeks. You wouldn’t think negotiations could be so intriguing, but the raw realism Lindholm achieves makes for extremely compelling drama which favors both our lucrative company and the poverty-stricken pirates in a way that almost makes you pick sides – almost. Solid crew performances and real personalities from our Somalis round out this harsh piece of tension-filled storytelling, and really make you think about today’s ecosystem in which people are forced into such tumultuous situations out of simple necessity. Pirating is a real threat, don’t forget that.