A Hijacking—the solo directing debut of Tobias Lindholm, one of the chief writers of the acclaimed Danish TV series Borgen—is a compact, meticulously researched drama about the business end of maritime piracy. Never depicting the titular attack, it instead focuses on the ransom negotiations between a Danish corporation and the Somalian pirates who’ve captured one of their cargo ships.
Borgen veterans Søren Malling and Pilou Asbæk star as, respectively, the company’s CEO and the ship’s cook, the latter of whom becomes a de facto spokesman for the crew during the negotiations. Malling is eager to pay the pirates off quickly, but can’t; as real-life maritime piracy specialist Gary Skjoldmose Porter explains early in the film, the hijackers will see this as sign of weakness and change the terms of the ransom. Malling’s only recourse, then, is to stall the negotiations for as long as possible—a plan that quickly starts to take an emotional toll on the company and the crew, who believe that they’ve been abandoned by their bosses.
A Hijacking is claustrophobically structured, alternating perspective from the ship to the company’s offices. The negotiations, conducted via satellite phone and fax, are always shown from only one group’s point-of-view; this lends suffocating suspense to every pregnant pause. Lindolm’s tunnel vision plotting eschews extraneous details and character-defining speeches in favor of fixing on the ransom process. While this might sound like a recipe for fact-heavy docudrama, it instead produces a psychologically nuanced study of men disintegrating in morally compromised circumstances. This is thanks in no small part to the uniformly strong cast, which includes a standout performance by Abdihakin Asgar as the pirates’ negotiator—a shrewd, desperate manipulator who is half bully, half New Best Friend.
A Hijacking’s only major hindrance is Lindholm’s pragmatic post-Dogme visual style, which favors unsteady handheld shots and jump cuts. While the improvisatory movement of the camera helps create a sense of ambiguous tension in the scenes where the crew interacts with the pirates, it also undercuts several more overtly dramatic moments. However, this shortcoming of filmmaking imagination is largely redeemed by the pessimistic wallop of the movie’s ending.