Featuring: Søren Malling, Johan Philip Asbæk, Abdi Rashid Yusuf, Dar Salim
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Movie website: www.magpictures.com/ahijacking/
2013-14 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville: 20–25 Jan, 8pm
Joondalup Pines: 28 Jan–2 Feb, 8pm
Verdict: A superbly crafted and performed character and dialogue-driven psychological thriller
A Danish cargo ship en route to Bombay is hijacked by Somali pirates. A tense ransom negotiation ensues between the pirate spokesman (Abdi Rashid Yusuf) and Denmark-based shipping company CEO (Søren Malling), with the lives of the increasingly despairing crew hanging in the balance.
In this most taut and realistic of thrillers, guns and violent coercion announce the battle between the opposing sides when the cargo ship MV Rozen is boarded by Somali pirates wielding automatic weapons and knives. However, the war of attrition that ensues is fought via dialogue over the phone, as the pirate negotiator and shipping company CEO take each other on in a psychologically brutal, high-stakes game of bluff, threat and manipulation.
The movie switches throughout between the plight of the crew on board ship and the shipping company crisis team in Denmark. The ransom negotiations take place over weeks, during which the tension on both sides escalates to combustible levels.
On board the ship, the crew are forced to endure appalling sanitary conditions and the bullying of a sadistic pirate who shouts demands they cannot understand, as he hovers over them brandishing his gun. On one occasion he holds it to the head of ship cook Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbækand) and pulls the trigger without ammunition in the breach. The pirate negotiator’s brand of terror is more sophisticated. Feigning a rare moment of compassion, he allows Mikkel to phone his wife, then threatens to have him executed if she fails to persuade the CEO to meet the ransom demands. This is but one of numerous manoeuvres designed to maximise pressure on the CEO by shifting perceived responsibility for the hostages’ plight to him.
Regardless of his moral positioning as a character, the pirate negotiator demands respect. He proves wily and skilled, more than a match for the tough shipping company CEO and his specialist advisors. The expertly managed dialogue between the two sides as the pressure mounts and cracks begin to appear makes for riveting viewing. The characterisation of the principle players on the opposing sides – the Danish CEO and the pirate negotiator – is deft and psychologically astute, and the actors that play the roles, Søren Malling and Abdi Rashid Yusuf respectively, respond with fine performances.
The standout, though, is Johan Philip Asbæk, who plays cook Mikkel with great sensitivity and humanity. An ordinary family guy caught in extraordinarily traumatic circumstances, he is a vulnerable character battling to contain his emotional extremes, and the one the viewer most readily identifies with.
There is no attempt to provide any background to the desperate circumstances driving the pirates (which is, of course, the humanitarian and economic crisis brought on by the mass-plundering of fish stocks in Somali coastal waters by multinational fishing operators) – and justifiably so, artistically. The focus of the film would be blurred by venturing outside the personal perspectives of the lead characters. That focus is two-fold: the hijacking and the tense, torturous route to its resolution, and the personal cost to those involved (which is hammered home in a devastating and haunting final scene).
This is a tremendously well-crafted film that gets all the fundamentals right. For Perthites, currently showing at the Somerville, and switching to Joondalup Pines next week. Take a comfortable cushion – you’ll be spending the evening on the edge of your seat.
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives