by TOM HART
Humble ship’s cook Mikkel Hartmann looks forward to a return home after a long voyage at sea. Back home in Denmark his company’s CEO Peter Ludvigsen closes a tough negotiation with a Japanese company. So opens Tobias Lindholm’s sober piracy film, A Hijacking. The scene is set for a hundred-plus day negotiation with Somali pirates, which builds tension through deft switches between CEO in Copenhagen and cook at sea.
Lindholm, the mastermind behind Danish TV’s hit political thriller Borgen, treats his subject with detachment. Fictional pirates have been most familiar as Hollywood camp over the last decade, and A Hijacking provides an antidote to Disney’s hijinks. Lindholm avoids action at all costs. The audience never sees the actual pirate takeover. Instead he conveys the unbearable tension at sea and at home. Boredom is a constant, and while violence is threatened the audience is often left to wonder exactly what has happened on the ship. The audience, like the executives in a genuine piracy incident, cannot count on reliable information. This is, says Lindsholm, what it is like to make life or death decisions with few facts. On the ship the pirate’s dialogue is never translated, so the audience can share in the crew’s bewilderment.
Piracy is above all a business proposition. Good business requires good deals, and good deals require skilled negotiation. Lindholm makes the theater around the negotiation the film’s center. Ludvigsen takes full responsibility for negotiation with assistance from British private security contractor Connor Julian. This is perhaps a dramatic conceit; for it seems unlikely a CEO could juggle company business and a tense hostage negotiation. Julian suggests bringing in a skilled outside negotiator, but Ludvigsen refuses. His colleagues acquiesce; and Julian warns him he must remain unemotional throughout the negotiations. This foreshadows a sudden resurgence in Ludvigsen’s Viking spirit, which almost leads to disaster.
Verisimilitude is central to A Hijacking, reportedly filmed on a ship that was captured by Somali pirates and with assistance from extras who were themselves hostages. Realism is carried through from careful research on the crew’s medical histories when the pirates claim the captain has fallen ill to psychological tricks employed to pressure the company offer up more cash.
If A Hijacking has anything to suggest with regards to ameliorating piracy it is that preparation is vital. While may shipping companies have invested in private security contractors and non-lethal deterrents, A Hijacking shows how psychological preparation for crew and executives could make negotiations, if not easy, more bearable. The impact on individuals is immense, and when watching A Hijacking it is worth remembering the MV Albedo and her fifteen crew, pirated in November 2010, and still not released.
A Hijacking comes at a moment when Somali piracy is on the wane. Last year saw Somali pirates attack 35 ships, according to the European Union’s naval task force; back in 2011 the figure was 135. Two large ships remain in pirate hands, along with around 52 hostages. Piracy now stands at five-year low, reports the International Maritime Bureau. The focus has turned to Indonesia and West Africa. A more action-orientated piracy film, High Value Target, is in the works. As the threat in Somali waters becomes more remote filmmakers may find entertainment value in piracy. For now A Hijacking is set to remain a definitive account.