Belfast Film Festival Screening – A Hijacking: Review by Richard Davis

A Hijacking (*****)

15 certificate

101 minutes

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Starring: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Abdihakin Asgar, Dar Salim, Roland Møller, Gary Skjoldmose Porter. 

(Belfast Film Festival Event, QFT Belfast, 14 April 2013)

(A Hijacking will be screening at the QFT from 24th-29th May 2013)

TOBIAS Lindholm has already established himself as a screenwriter to watch with his work on The Hunt (2012) and the television series Borgen, with the immersive drama,  A Hijacking, he announces himself as a director of rare poise and vision.

Following his feature debut, R (2010), Lindholm re-teams with Pilou Asbæk again, alongside Borgen co-star Søren Malling, as the two leads in the story of a Danish cargo ship that is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Based on real events, Lindholm focuses his film on the experiences of two men- Mikkel (Asbæk), the ship’s cook, and Peter (Malling), the CEO of the company- and the psychological toll the hijacking takes on both during the protracted negotiations between the company and the pirates.

Rather than focusing on the drama of the situation and playing up the ticking clock element in the way a film like Argo (2012) did, for example, Lindholm takes the audience inside the situation- portraying the mundane reality of a hijacking. His film is dominated by space and silence: the heavy atmosphere of dead time is present in every frame; no-one is able to move on with their lives, even in the smallest way; conversation is stifled; the audience is trapped in the same locations over and over- in Copenhagen as well as on the hijacked vessel; even the music emphasises the slow passing of time and the gaps between sounds.

Both Peter and Mikkel are examined under a microscope. Lindholm’s invasive camera follows his characters everywhere and holds its gaze close on its subjects’ faces, searching for signs of strain and weakness. It is in these rare moments of fracture that the disciplined performances of Asbæk and Malling are illuminated by their characters’ darker emotions of fear and anger.

But Lindholm’s film is not simply some aloof psychological examination of his characters, in many ways it enshrines the simple things in life; those that only seem to have value when taken  away. The importance of family is reinforced throughout, as well as friendship and the camaraderie among men. But Lindholm also plays upon the film’s themes.

In one sequence the hostages are allowed on deck and bond with the pirates, despite the language barrier, as they haul in an enormous fish. They then proceed to make merry with a rowdy chorus of ‘What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor”. It’s a riotous and bizarre sequence that jolts the audience out of the film’s carefully established routine, but it’s also an example of the ingenuity of the filmmaking on show as the audience come back down with a bump in the next scene- a jolt made all the more shocking by the film’s clever structuring.

Lindholm manages to keep the audience on a tight leash all the way to the end of the film, in part by never letting the narrative settle into the clichéd or predictable. A Hijacking is also an excellent showcase for the abilities of its two leading actors and it will be interesting to see how Lindholm’s partnership with Pilou Asbæk develops further after two films together. The true vindication of A Hijacking’s brilliance is that after 100 minutes of claustrophobia and tension you leave the cinema refreshed and enriched by the quality of the storytelling you have witnessed on the screen. The Scandinavian countries have produced a number of top filmmakers in recent times in Lukas Moodysson, Thomas Alfredson and Nicolas Winding Refn. Tobias Lindholm may soon be joining these names.

Review by Richard Davis

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