Every once in a while, a film comes along that proves innovation is still alive and well in filmmaking. A Hijacking, an extraordinary Danish film by Tobias Lindholm, is one of those movies. A thriller that at every turn defies the conventions of its genre, A Hijacking is a truly stunning achievement.
The film centers on two individuals affected by the hijacking of Danish cargo ship MV Rozen by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The first, Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk), is the ship’s cook, a meek family man completely unprepared for the situation in which he finds himself. The second, Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), is the CEO of the shipping company, a well-intentioned suit behind a pristine office desk in Copenhagen. As Peter begins a tense, protracted series of negotiations with the pirates, Mikkel and the other crew members are left to suffer the horrific consequences of his continued inaction.
A great deal of credit for A Hijacking‘s success should go to Lindholm, who directed and wrote the script for A Hijacking. Under his careful ministrations, the camera never stops moving, and the effect is intentionally unnerving but never disorienting. Lindholm’s ability to build tension is nothing short of spectacular; every scene hums with furious, pent-up energy. It’s near impossible to tear your eyes away. The sense of claustrophobia he manages to build aboard the Rozen is remarkable; many of his shots are so impressive and immersive that viewers will feel as if the hijacking is occurring in their own living room.
Lindholm also takes great pains never to conform to action clichés, instead keeping the film’s focus on what isn’t happening rather than what is. In fact, he opts never to show the hijacking at all, immediately jumping from before the appearance of the pirates’ motorboats to after their successful takeover. The focus here is clearly on complex human interaction over high-budget action, but the film is possibly all the more explosive for that unique perspective, as well as for its remarkably tight direction. As Peter’s negotiation tactics cause the talks to drag out, to the detriment of Mikkel and other crew members, Lindholm positions A Hijacking as a tense, timely tale of failed diplomacy, highlighting the injustices of a system that prioritizes monetary gain over human life.
Both Asbæk and Malling are sublime in their roles. As Mikkel, Asbæk fully exhibits a complicated emotional journey, from terror to anger to disturbing detachment. The actor clearly commits himself entirely to the role, and the result is a detailed portrait of a man in the crosshairs sure to rival Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips. Perhaps the best scene of the film unfolds when the lead negotiator for the pirates, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), finally allows Mikkel a chance to contact his wife. What happens next is terrifying, heartbreaking and utterly electrifying.
As Peter, Malling does an admirable job of keeping viewers riveted even when the lens shifts from the Rozen to his Copenhagen office. Though the character is at times detestable, Malling’s excellent performance ensures that he’s also never less than believable as an assertive businessman slowly but surely falling to pieces under unbearable pressure. In one scene, when he anxiously repeats questions to Omar into the office phone and is answered only by an eerie echo of his own voice, the emotions that flit across Malling’s features are quietly devastating.
Equally awe-inspiring are two of the Somali pirates themselves. Asgar’s Omar distances himself from the brutality of his comrades (“I’m not one of them,” he yells at Peter) even as he sadistically tightens the screws on Mikkel, using him as a pawn to put psychological pressure on Peter. Meanwhile, pirate Rashid (Abdi Rashid Yusuf) powerfully communicates the volatile mental state of an impoverished young man suddenly given an assault rifle and carte blanche to maintain order among his prisoners.
As the tension ratchets up to positively searing levels, Lindholm refuses to give viewers any relief, pushing them instead to feel a measure of the agony, anxiety and misery experienced by his two on-screen prisoners, Mikkel and Peter. When the hostage stand-off finally concluded, not with a firefight but with an ostensible happy ending and one infinitely horrific moment, I was left shocked, rattled and emotionally drained.
Though the home release of Lindholm’s film will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the theatrical arrival of Captain Phillips, an awards-bait thriller starring Tom Hanks that also deals with the ripped-from-the-headlines world of Somali piracy, it would be a tragedy to pass up such a terrific, thought-provoking thriller simply because of its competition. A Hijacking is a compact, unconventional, flawlessly executed and thoroughly captivating thriller. It’s an absolute knock-out.
A Hijacking‘s 1080p video transfer highlights Lindholm’s cinema-verité aspirations with grimy, graphic colors and solid attention to detail. The contrast between the dirty, deep browns of the Rozen’s interior and the shiny whites of Peter’s Copenhagen office is particularly striking on Blu-Ray, and the dank atmosphere of the film is entirely preserved.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is enough to make all of the dialogue understandable, but the film does explore multiple languages with lots of subtitled dialogue, so understanding what’s going on is more a matter of reading quickly than listening for particular snippets. Across the course of the film, Lindholm’s script delivers dialogue in Danish, English, Somali, Swedish, Arabic and even Japanese, but linguaphobes need not fear – the subtitles are given enough spacing on the Blu-Ray and enough dialogue is in English that not knowing foreign languages is a nonissue.
The Blu-Ray copy of A Hijacking comes with just a few special features:
- Behind the Scenes Featurettes
- Behind the Movie
- The Director
- The Chief Engineer
- The Actors
Though they run only around twelve minutes in total, the Behind the Scenes Featurettes should be mandatory viewing for those interested in the making of A Hijacking. The featurettes offer tantalizing insight into the true story behind A Hijacking and the dangers of shooting on location, as well as astute discussions with Lindholm, Malling and Asbæk. Fans of the film will also jump at the chance to hear from Juma Mvitta, the Chief Engineer of the actual MV Rozen (where Mikkel’s half of the film was shot), who was actually held for ransom by Somali pirates for 111 days. Mvitta has a supporting role in the film, and his comments when interviewed by fellow cast member Roland Møller are both intelligent and thought-provoking.
The Blu-Ray of A Hijacking is well worth picking up if you want to experience the gritty, dank atmosphere of the film in as high definition as possible. The DVD also includes the same special features, so that shouldn’t influence your decision, but the verité stylings of A Hijacking are certainly best experienced on the Blu-Ray. The most important thing, however, is that you see A Hijacking. It will transfix you, regardless of what format you watch it in, and it’s not to be missed at any cost.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
An unequivocally tense and terrific thriller, A Hijacking captivates with innovative direction, stunning performances and a realistic, utterly engrossing atmosphere.