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Critic’s Pick: ‘A Hijacking’

The Reel Breakdown

Critic’s Pick: ‘A Hijacking’

Magnolia Pictures' 'A Hijacking'

Must-See Movies Beyond the Blockbusters

Given the title is “A Hijacking,” when the film opens with a bearded teddy bear of a ship’s cook calling his wife and daughter back home in Denmark to say he’ll see them in a few days, we know Daddy’s not returning any time soon. And, faster than you can say three-egg omelet, Somali pirates with automatic weapons board the Danish cargo vessel in the Indian Ocean bound for Mumbai and hold it for ransom.

The initial strain lies in the crew’s fear and discomfort, as the captain succumbs to illness, the sanitary conditions deteriorate and Mikkel, the chef, (Pilou Asbaek) must learn to cook with a rifle pointed at his neck. The majority of the pirates speak neither Danish nor English, so the possibility of deadly miscommunication is tangible.

[Related: No Hijackings by Somali Pirates in Nearly a Year]

While up-and-coming Danish writer-director Tobias Lindhom (“R”) cranks up the tensions on board the MV Rozen, the hostage talks drive the narrative forward in intentionally frustrating fits and starts. The Somali negotiator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) demands a $12 million ransom from the corporate owners. Meanwhile, back at HQ in Copenhagen, a hot-shot CEO named Peter (Soren Malling), high off a successful negotiation with the Japanese, steps in to dicker with the Somalis against the advice of specialists in the field. Peter makes an initial offer of $250,000.

While the drama functions with a thriller’s intensity, a cat-and-mouse game played with dollars and automatic weapons, it’s really a study in contrasts. On one end of the world in Scandinavia, stands the antiseptic cleanliness of the corporate offices. Peter is a control freak accustomed to knowing the rules of business negotiation – but when human capital is at stake he, too, begins to lose his grip. While the pirates can’t drag Peter physically out of his comfort zone of starched shirts and submissive underlings, they ultimately pull the legs out from under him psychologically.

[Related: "A Highjacking" Photocall: The 69th Annual Venice Film Festival]

As claustrophobic and chaotic as life on the ship becomes for the sympathetic Mikkel and the crew as days turn into weeks, weeks to months, the contrast between West and East becomes starker; between a world of economic abundance where seams are tidy and loose ends knitted, and the unstable impoverished society that spawned the pirates.

On one hand, this is a painstaking thriller about what happens when an act of piracy on a distant sea upsets the balance between East and West. On a larger level, as it shifts between the wealth evident in Denmark and the desperation reflected in the pirates’ behavior, “A Hijacking” raises the provocative question: Who is hijacking who?

Bottom Line: An intense true-life tale of piracy with no jolly Johnny Depp in sight.

For more on this week's new releases, check out our Weekend Picks...