TV-MA | 7 episodes | thriller | June 28, 2023
Sam Nelson is flying Kingdom Airways, a fictional airline more like British Airways than Etihad or Emirates, but its first-class section should still be quite luxurious. Unfortunately, he will not be able to enjoy it, because his flight will be disrupted by hijackers. As it happens, sitting in first-class puts him in earshot of the ringleader, which is where he wants to be. Nelson calls on all the powers of persuasion he developed as a shark-like corporate negotiator-for-hire to convince the hijackers to peacefully land the plane in co-creators George Kay and Jim Field Smith’s seven-part “Hijack.”
Nelson (Idris Elba) booked his flight from Dubai hoping to save his marriage to his wife, Marsha Smith-Nelson (Christine Adams), but she has already moved on to Detective Inspector Daniel O’Farrell (Max Beesley) during their separation. Nelson’s son Kai (Jude Cudjoe) is not too thrilled about the new arrangement, but it will soon be useful to have a detective close at hand. Despite their differences, Smith-Nelson knows that her estranged husband is not prone to exaggeration, so when he sends an ominous text about an incident onboard, she asks O’Farrell to follow-up with his national security contact and ex-girlfriend, Zahra Gahfoor (Archie Panjabi).
The flight has indeed been hijacked, but the gang led by the burly, blunt Stuart Atterton (Neil Maskell) does not seem political. The unstable Jaden (Mohamed Elsandel) speaks Arabic, but that appears to be a prudent preparation for hijacking a flight from the Emirates rather than a reflection of some sort of Islamist ideology. Regardless, the hijackers will be forced to make their move considerably earlier than planned. That means there will be far more time for things to go wrong. Picking up on their nervousness, Nelson offers his services as a facilitator and go-between, but Atterton instinctively distrusts the negotiator.
“Hijack” is billed as a “real-time” thriller in the tradition of “24,” but it does not emphasize the passage of time so prominently. Instead of a ticking clock, viewers more often see the in-flight map of the plane’s progress, because each time it enters a different country’s air space, a new host of problems ensue.
Hopefully, there are more security safeguards built into real-life air travel than depicted in “Hijack.” Nevertheless, the plot comes across as reasonably plausible, even in the post-9/11 era. Obviously, the fear of a weaponized hijacked airliner hangs over the series, greatly shaping the response of authorities on the ground. Nelson is hardly an invincible superhero either, which lends the series further dramatic credibility. Frankly, he is not very heroically inclined at all, but he has Idris Elba’s imposing physical stature.
More Brains Than BrawnIn fact, Elba’s lead performance is magnetic and surprisingly complex. He is not always sympathetic or likable, but it’s fascinating to watch him incisively analyze and respond to the predicament. He is the rare thriller protagonist who relies more on brains than muscle.
Neil Maskell (who has previously played plenty of working-class thugs in Ben Wheatley’s films) is also terrific as Atterton, who is indeed a ruffian, but he is sufficiently calculating to make a worthy adversary to Nelson and the disorganized UK bureaucrats chasing their tails on the ground. At least Panjabi inspires some confidence as the no-nonsense Gahfoor. (She also starred in airline crash investigation series “Departure,” which depicts the sort of tragic aftermath Nelson is trying to avoid in “Hijack.”) Likewise, Beesley makes an engagingly earnest secondary “hero” as O’Farrell, nicely complementing Elba’s difficult and downbeat Nelson.
There are plenty of contrivances in “Hijack,” but directors Jim Field Smith and Mo Ali keep the tension high throughout the series. In general, airline thrillers tap into anxieties all travelers share. “Hijack” does so especially effectively, because its protagonist is so believably flawed. Recommended for its reasonably grounded and energetically executed hijacking suspense.