Having not necessarily seen the poster, the film title automatically assumes a plane takeover at several thousand feet, like so many films before. However, this is a story of ‘terrorists at sea’ with writer-director Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt), putting to bed the romantic notion of swashbuckling pirates with a frank and tension-pounding pseudo-documentary account (based on real events) that is remarkably chilling to say the least.
Cargo ship chef Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbæk) only has a few days left at sea until he returns home to Copenhagen to see his young family. Unfortunately for him and his fellow crewmen, Somali pirates board the ship and demand a multi-million dollar ransom to free both crew and ship from the Danish parent company. Cool businessman and company CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) hires an expert to help negotiate with the pirates thousands of miles away, believing he can control the situation as efficiently as he normally does, only for things to escalate with potentially drastic consequences.
You can actually feel the mercury rising in the negotiators’ cramped, white-board-adorned room, as well as aboard the doomed vessel, and smell the deteriorating living conditions. Brilliantly imagined, Lindholm captures a startling sense of claustrophobia as events escalate and the tit-for-tat game of numbers draws out. This is incredibly powerful film-making that refrains from using visual displays of graphic violence on the whole, hence forcing your mind to fill in the gaps between stolen glances from the anxious characters.
There is also a deliberate and equally excruciating real-time delay to the plot momentum as each side plays the waiting game. In between exchanges, Lindholm makes sure the bad guys are not necessarily caricatures and completely demonised – in a sense, trying to show both sides of the bigger economic picture from both separate needs. There are also parts where captives and captors bond and are deemed to be ‘having fun’, but still with that ever lurking danger simmering beneath that things could switch at any moment and spiral out of control.
Lindholm has a nice array of characters at play, never totally black and white in reaction, from the amicable, easy-going Mikkel that Asbæk compellingly portrays, to the steely, rigid manner of Ludvigsen by Malling who is almost as egocentric as pirate negotiator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar). Every main character gets to portray different sides to their personality, and as the tension mounts, it’s anyone’s guess how each will act, keeping things more absorbing.
It’s not so much about the dialogue than the body language that is also fascinating, as well as the enclosed feeling when windows and doors show exit routes to the outside world. Oddly enough, perhaps the most entrapped character is actually Ludvigsen as the fate of the captives is already determined: Witnessing his mood swings is sometimes more riveting than what is going on, on the ship, as his cool exterior melts. The ending throws up a tragic surprise, with Lindholm’s final, parting shot suggesting more is at stake now than before. This is more satisfyingly and realistic than a happily-ever-after conclusion as first expected, further fuelling the docu-style ambiance.
Fledgling director Lindholm tackles a different perspective of capture with A Hijacking and its repercussions on man’s psyche and his forced adaptation to a gruelling situation, to his gritty 2010 prison-based film R, also starring Asbæk. That said what keeps things stimulating that both films share is a genuine sense of reality and how much of your own perception is invested in what you are watching. These qualities coupled with a remarkably astute writing talent make for exciting writing-directing prospects for future projects ahead from the Danish film-maker.