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Movie Review: A Hijacking

‘A Hijacking’ takes its time to build tension (Our grade: B+)
A Hijacking
Genres: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 99 min
MPAA rating: R
Release Date: 2013-06-14
Tags: There are no tags.
By "Matthew Odam"
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman

Tom Hanks stars in the titular role of this fall’s “Captain Phillips,” the based-on-a-true-story tale of the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama. It has intense gun battles, splashy action, a big American star, some melodramatic heroism and a hefty budget.

“A Hijacking” is the opposite side of a similar coin. The procedural thriller from Danish writer-director Tobias Lindholm is a taut, almost bloodless, low-budget feature that does not sermonize or demonize in the story of a hijacked Danish cargo ship.

The result is likely less pulsating than the Hanks’ film will be, but it is still captivating. Affable Dane Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) works as a cook on a freighter in the Indian Ocean. The ship is headed for Dubai, but they’re going to be a few days late. We get the exposition in a sweet phone call from the gentle and bearded Mikkel to his wife back home.

Back in Denmark, executive Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) displays his steely will in negotiating terms of a multimillion-dollar deal with Japanese businessmen. Both scenes help flesh out the characters in simple and effective ways and foreshadow events that will hinge on communication.

Although the audience doesn’t see the action take place, whether due to budgetary restrictions or sparse storytelling choices, Somali pirates hijack the ship. The lack of swiftly moving cameras and dramatic music in the capture scene may confound some American viewers, but “A Hijacking” has less interest in how the ship was taken and more in how the conflict works toward resolution.

The movie plays out like a character study, with the attention shifting from the board room, where a prideful Peter tries to exert control over the situation to the pirates — and the ship — where the language barrier between the kidnappers and the victims makes for nerve-jangling confusion and hostility.

“A Hijacking” uses a handheld home-video style of lensing to capture the immediacy of the situation on land and at sea. Peter comes across as a compelling and ambiguous character, his interest in the company’s bottom line and his pride in “winning” the negotiations competing with his humanity.

The corporate wavering on financial terms leaves Mikkel and his crewmates (and the pirates) almost as afterthoughts, and Asbæk and Malling do fine work showing the strain of the months-long proceedings. While the corporate executive changes his tailored French-cuff shirts between stressful meetings, Mikkel and his mates are left to urinate in bottles and pray that they live to see their families again. The danger never reaches the level of chaos, but the subtext and metaphor in the slow-moving humanistic commentary on the motivations and byproducts of capitalism make for an intriguing film.

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June 27, 2013 - Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman - Matthew Odam

Tom Hanks stars in the titular role of this fall’s “Captain Phillips,” the based-on-a-true-story tale of the hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama. It has intense gun battles, splashy action, a big American star, some melodramatic heroism and a hefty budget.

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