I wrote in my review of “Captain Phillips” that the movie was really about two businessmen, leaders who respected one another and negotiated a deal. “A Hijacking” is a Danish film likewise about a shipping freighter being boarded by Somali pirates, but this film is the one that hits at the reality of how men do business.
It’s a cold-blooded negotiation, one in which the men do not respect each other or play fair. It’s a thriller, but a slow one designed to drag things out mercilessly and endlessly, making “Captain Phillips” look like just a busy weekend. “A Hijacking” works as a complex drama and thriller because it’s an indictment of corporate culture first. Tobias Lindholm’s film lacks a hero or a fulfilling rescue, and it serves as a stark counterpart to Paul Greengrass’s movie.
The captain of the hijacked Rozen isn’t even on the boat. His name is Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), and he’s the CEO of international company that owns the vessel. In an early scene we see Peter about to storm out of a negotiation meeting with Japanese businessmen, successfully knocking down their asking price by a few million dollars in a manner of seconds.
So when he gets wind of his boat being taken capture and held for ransom, he hires a consultant to advise him on the pirates’ intentions and takes a seat at the negotiating chair himself. Motivated partly by ego, partly by compassion and partly by duty, Peter is advised by his consultant that pirates don’t think like regular businessmen. Give them their first asking price and they immediately ask for more. Play the negotiating game and show no emotion that might cause the pull of a trigger.
What Peter is missing is the condition of the crewmates he’s representing. The boat’s cook is Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), and he speaks to Peter over the phone through the help of the pirate negotiator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). Omar speaks in English to the crew in a strangely disarming fashion, aiming to put Mikkel’s mind at ease and assure him he’s on Mikkel’s team, not the pirates. But really this is a business play, utilizing English as a humanizing, universal language. Omar’s intentions remain sketchy.
Lindholm shows how long and agonizing this process is not through belabored visuals but by keeping much of the action off screen. Suddenly one of the crewmembers is taking a long piss in a toilet over a corner, and a subtitle flashes that reads “Day 25.”
This seems to be the routine, and that’s exactly the name of the game of “A Hijacking.” We never see a gun shot onscreen, but we do see life and death hanging in the scratchy quality of a VOIP call and a fax machine. Peter continually lowballs the pirates and even hangs up out of frustration, thinking he’s avoiding playing into the pirates’ “psychological game.” But soon we start to question the advice of the consultant, the greed of Peter and the incompetence of the others in his boardroom functioning as a war room.
One of the best scenes involves a scraggly, unshaven Peter with just a dirty undershirt on in his luxurious corner office. He’s been working late nights, and for a moment he looks like one of the people he’s trying to rescue. Then in walks his wife, dressed to the nines and expressing concern over the late hours and conditions he’s been working. Lindholm tears us between the sensation to feel empathy for this man and the blatant hypocrisy of his inability to act.
This is a complex thriller, one that ultimately condemns the corporate culture that engenders the mindset of the CEO who believes he’s doing all he can and the wife who thinks her husband is the beleaguered one.
Lindholm echoes that corporate structure in the plot’s layers. Peter and Omar really have no power. They take orders from outside advisers and higher ups who dictate their demands. The obvious difference however is the real life stakes. We see Mikkel catching fish with his captors and singing a bittersweet happy birthday to his daughter at home. Meanwhile the boardroom dealings carry on and the PR machine works their magic.
“A Hijacking” may not be the thriller “Captain Phillips” was, but the pacing found in Lindholm’s film shows us the way the world really works.
3 ½ stars