By Brian Lafferty
July 12, 2013 (San Diego) – A Hijacking is a straightforward hostage movie that is as simply constructed and acted as its title. Somali pirates take over a Danish cargo ship. The captors demand millions of dollars in exchange. No one-liners, no fancy style, no John McClane heroics or Hans Gruber villainy. Not even a note of music to underscore the tension.
To those who are used to similar movies like Die Hard, this must look dull. Believe me, it’s not. A Hijacking is as thrilling as the first three Die Hards, a feat it accomplishes with less than one-tenth the ambition.
But unlike Die Hard, A Hijacking relies more on psychological brawn than it does physical. Tobias Lindholm’s screenplay is heavily dialogue-driven. The movie may run only 103 minutes, but mentally it felt like it lasted months. It’s agonizing to see the negotiations between the pirates and the wealthy employers of the hostages drag on, often going nowhere.
Ringleader Omar is, shall I say, some villain. In some ways, he’s an even worse antagonist than Hans Gruber because of first-time actor Abdihakin Asgar’s mesmerizing and easygoing take. Omar is so nice, or at least he pretends to be. He’s not, however, to be trusted. At any moment, I kept getting the sinking feeling he would snap. Every time he acted friendly, I could have sworn it was a façade covering deep violent and psychopathic tendencies.
Tension fills every moment. The limbo and uncertainty are one of many elements that threaten to shatter the hostages’ grip on life. They are forbidden to leave their cabin, even to use the bathroom; their cabin stinks of urine and feces emptied into buckets. Of the numerous Somalis on board the ship, only Omar is fluent in English. This creates a language barrier with deadly implications. Guns are routinely aimed at the hostages’ heads wherever they go. Omar is calm and collected, but the other captors display erratic behavior. One wrong move, or one misinterpreted word could mean the difference between living and dying.
A Hijacking takes advantage of the vessel’s cramped spaces. Interiors are often filmed with shots no wider than medium. The handheld camera captures the events like a documentary. This technique is effective to the point of immersion; it’s not often that I feel like I’m more than just a spectator viewing from the other side of the fourth wall, but I did this time.
A Hijacking is currently playing in limited release.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Director: Tobias Lindholm. Screenplay: Tobias Lindholm. Original Music: Hildur Gu∂nadóttir. Cinematography: Magnus Nordenhof Jønck. Cast: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Dar Salim, Roland Møller, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Abdihakin Asgar, and Amalie Ihle Alstrup. Runtime: 103 minutes. Rated R. In Danish, Swedish, Japanese, Somali, and English with English subtitles.