Tobias Lindholm’s uncannily elliptical nail-biter follows two of the three involved parties in the hijacking of Danish oil tanker: the ship’s cook—held hostage—and the CEO negotiating for his release. Lurking in the background, redeemed only by their usefulness in an excellent screenplay, are the Somali Other. They brandish the ubiquitous AK-47s and they wander, sing, and listen to the radio, and their English-speaking leader (or spokesman) does the talking.
Lindholm’s aversion to subtitles is totally understandable because of his decision to describe only the predicament of the white parties involved. The complexity of the film grows from the ways in which A Hijacking is, and is not, skirting the most compelling issue its premise begs: what could drive someone to piracy?
The film is intensely focused—so much so that it can’t describe the class war ravaging its principal characters. While Lindholm’s sympathy for the noble CEO, who takes personal responsibility for negotiating his employees out of the hands of pirates, is admirable, the other half of the story belongs to the pirates. That story goes untold.
In the same moments that the subtitles, by their absence, deprive us of the Somalis’ story, their absence roots us powerfully with the hostages. In a game so much about isolation and menacing ambiguity, its easy to see why Lindholm might regard subtitles as cheating. We understand his characters’ isolation intuitively, which adds to the film’s docudrama street cred. A Hijacking has been much lauded, already, for naturalism.
What Lindholm does describe (and he describes it very well) is the despair of the prisoner, and the uniquely corporate phenomenon of the rich being responsible for the poor (or, relative to the on-screen Somalis, less-wealthy) thousands of miles away. Through the grace of simple contrast, (Lindholm’s film takes place in only two locations, the boat and the office) its easy to see the captive workers as helpless indentured servants, thrust into the line of danger while their CEO—also a human being—wanders in and out of air-conditioned offices.
But the film’s interest in negotiation between the haves and the have-nots ultimately ends with its Danes.
It would be criminal not to mention here the goat scene, which speaks volumes by showing how the Somalis are still living in the real world, rather than a constructed one. This is not to separate them from history, but to say that when they are hungry, the Somali pirates know how to slaughter and butcher a goat. By contrast, Lindholm’s protagonist knows how to prepare an omelet and coffee. While this may be a comment, it’s not exactly an exploration.
There’s also that single Somali character who should be mentioned: the pirate spokesman. His irate protests that he is not a pirate, and is not in control, seem to imply just the opposite. Unfortunately, this intriguing beginning to a character turns out to be, also, the end of the character. The protracted milking of his implied duplicity, in the pursuit of more suspense, turns out to be the extent of the character’s “usefulness.”
My point is not to complain loudly about A Hijacking, but to point out another film that still needs to be made. This is not a film about Somali pirates: it’s a moody suspense film with one foot in the art house. Surely, there’s a place for such a film. But if Lindholm is interested, as I think he is, in the vast gulfs between the rich and the not-so-rich, and he’s interested in menacing them both with Somali-pirate-baddies, why not explore the real have-nots?