A Hijacking Tobias Lindholm

Screenwriter-turned-director Tobias Lindholm’s second film is inspired by the real-life hijackings of Danish ships in the Indian Ocean. When the cargo ship MV Rosen is commandeered by Kalashnikov-wielding Somali pirates, it falls to the ship’s cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), to facilitate negotiations between its corporate owners and the pirates for the crew’s release. Through a series of terse faxes and garbled satellitetelephone calls, the company’s hard-driving alpha-male CEO, Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), and the likeable pirate boss Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) struggle to come to terms on how much money the company will pay.

Lowball offers, bluffs, and mutual misunderstanding characterize the tense haggling which forms the heart of the film. After the crew’s families are notified—with a stern warning not to alert authorities—the pressure begins to affect the previously unflappable Peter. As time stretches on and supplies on the ship dwindle, desperation and mistrust grow to explosive levels aboard the captive vessel and in the company boardroom.

Known for hard-hitting screenplays for Submarino and The Hunt which he co-wrote with director Thomas Vinterberg, and for the popular Danish TV drama Borgen, Tobias Lindholm’s solo directorial debut is perhaps as remarkable in the script department as his previous work, but the film itself—like the ship it depicts—sometimes goes adrift. Much of the film’s handheld camerawork is distracting rather than immersive, and his aversion to using dramatic music stymies the film’s rhythms. The human stakes of the situation, though expressed in the dialogue, do not come to life in the film’s action. That’s partly because of a certain clunkiness among those actors tasked with speaking English, which is the language of some of the most dramatic exchanges. A drab and limited color palette, constrained locations, and bare-bones soundscape lead to impoverished storytelling more than they communicate the captives’ environment.

A Hijacking

A Hijacking takes pains to imply that the seamen and the pirates should rightly be allies—that both are workingmen just looking for their fair share of capitalism’s pie. But the film fails to establish convincing relationships between the characters, often because the actors do not seem to be connecting. Lindholm’s embrace of improvisation may also have something to do with sometimes stilted deliveries and the feeling that actors are talking past one another.   

The problem affects the depiction of the relationship between Peter and his right-hand man, Lars (Dar Salim). At the beginning of the film, when Lars finds himself overwhelmed in a business deal, Peter warns his younger colleague to seek out his help next time. But when Peter later must decide whether to accept Lars’s counsel at a crucial point in negotiations with the pirates, it’s one of several instances in the film when a vital narrative inflection point passes by without being given its dramatic due. And the most interesting relationship, between Mikkel and Omar—played by two actors who do connect—is not fully explored.

In his screenwriting, Tobias Lindholm has shown strong instincts for masculine melodrama and a knack for plot twists. As a director, though, he may still be getting his sea legs.