A Hijacking: Venice review

9:11 AM PDT 9/3/2012 by Neil Young

Søren Malling and Pilou Asbæk star in Tobias Lindholm’s Danish drama about negotiations over a high-seas hostage situation.

One of the more unheralded standouts at this year’s Venice, Denmark’s A Hijacking (Kapringen) is a tensely economical study of leadership, teamwork and negotiation in high-pressure crisis situations. Though the grimly serious tone and talk-heavy, action-light approach might perhaps render writer-director Tobias Lindholm‘s solo debut a tricky distribution sell overseas, it could yet ride the profitable, ongoing wave of adult-oriented Scandinavian fare’s international popularity.

Small-screen prospects are particularly bright, and while the tight focus here pays claustrophic dividends, it’s easy to imagine this 103-minute version providing the basis for a multi-part miniseries. Premiering in Venice’s Orizzonti sidebar, A Hijackingobtains its North American premiere at Toronto just ahead of domestic release on September 20th.

Lindholm’s writing credits include 20 episodes of politically-themed, BAFTA-winning Danish smash Borgen as well as Thomas Vinterberg’s Submarino (2010) and The Hunt, which won Mads Mikkelsen the Best Actor prize at Cannes earlier this year. With Michael Noer he co-wrote and co-directed R (aka R - Hit First,Hit Hardest) (2010), a fine prison picture unfairly overshadowed by the global success of the ostensibly similar-themed A Prophet.

Working without Noer here, Lindholm again examines men stuck in cramped, confined situations for extended periods, his screenplay splitting its focus between the Rozen, a cargo-ship in the Indian Ocean overtaken by Kalashnikov-toting Somali ‘pirates’, and the boat-owners’ Copenhagen head-office. After brisk scene-setting in which we’re introduced to ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), establishing sympathy by providing him with a wife and young daughter back home in Denmark, Lindholm audaciously skips forward two days and thus avoids showing the actual hijacking process altogether.

We learn about this pivotal development at second hand, at the same time as the shipping company responsible for the welfare of the seven-man Rozen crew. Ignoring the advice of the expert (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) hired to oversee proceedings, the company’s CEO Peter (Søren Malling) negotiates directly on the phone with the hostage-takers, represented by multilingual translator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). As the days turn into weeks and then months, Mikkel and his shipmates aboard the Rozen must endure rapidly deteriorating conditions and increasingly perilous psychological pressures.

Lindholm again collaborates with key personnel from R, chiefly cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck and editor Adam Nielsen, in a production which exudes impressively steely control on all levels. We shift back and forth between the sleekly modern Copenhagen office-suites and the Rozen, the below-decks atmosphere on the craft turning miasmic as the men cope without access to basic hygiene facilities.

R‘s leading man Asbæk also returns, near-unrecognizable here as the genially bearish Mikkel, though the chef gradually recedes from prominence as the emphasis shifts to his employer Peter. It’s middle-aged Peter’s character, leadership and decisiveness which are the crux of the matter, including the degree to which he can trust and give responsibility to his dynamic deputy Lars - another forceful turn from soldier-turned-actor Dar Salim, four years after his breakthrough Go With Peace Jamil.

Working effectively with the professional actors in the cast, meanwhile, real-life marine security expert Gary Skjoldmose Porter further boosts the general air of hard-knock versimilitude in a production which illuminatingly and sensitively dramatizes an easily-overlooked global crime phenomenon.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Orizzonti), September 2, 2012.