Movie Review: A Hijacking

The human cost of piracy
June 20, 2013 Updated: June 20, 2013

They do not teach you how to negotiate with pirates in MBA courses, but perhaps they soon might. After all, this film is inspired by two real-life incidences of Danish cargo ships taken hostage by Somali pirates. The negotiation process will be an ordeal both for the captive crew of the MV Rozen and their CEO in Tobias Lindholm’s edge-of-your-seat thriller, “A Hijacking.”

Mikkel Hartmann is retiring from seafaring to spend more time with his family. Ordinarily, he serves as the ship’s cook, but when hijackers commandeer the vessel, they use him to communicate with the corporate office. He will be talking to Peter C. Ludvigsen, a media darling CEO with a knack for negotiating hard terms. However, bringing back his crew will be the greatest challenge of his career.

The company would willingly pay the ransom demanded, but according to their consultant (played by real-life hostage negotiator Gary Skjoldmose Porter), it is not that simple. If they immediately pay up, the pirates are likely to thank them for the “down payment” and promise to get back to them regarding the full balance.

Instead, Ludvigsen must convince them that they are getting every last cent they can possible extract from the company. Counterintuitively, protracted negotiations are in the best interests of the men and the firm. Of course, it will not be a pleasant experience for any of the Danes.

Scrupulously realistic, “A Hijacking” acts as a bracing corrective to the cathartic satisfaction of action movies. It is simply not realistic to expect Roger Moore’s character in “ffolkes” to launch a high-seas rescue mission. The logistics are too complicated and life is too cheap for hostage takers.

The film is also likely to run afoul of the professionally offended because it portrays the Somali pirates as a callous, violently erratic lot. Nor does it whitewash their Muslim faith. Of course, that is precisely the reality sailors such as the Rozen crew must live with every day.

Cranking up the tension like a vice, Lindholm puts so much pressure on his characters that they almost turn into diamonds. This is an exhausting nail-biter of a film, but somehow it seems far quicker than its 99 minutes, despite the agonizing nature of the drawn-out, months-long negotiation. That is just great filmmaking.

There is also a truly award-worthy performance from Soren Malling as Ludvigsen. It is a brilliant depiction of the mighty humbled, precisely because of his genuine humanity. Never clichéd, Malling’s work is easily the most compelling big-screen portrayal of a business leader in years (if not decades).

In fact, “A Hijacking” features strong ensemble work all around, most definitely including Abdihakin Asgar as Omar, the pirates’ devilishly manipulative negotiator. He is an unforgettable villain (though “villain” might not be a strong enough term).

The pirates might come from mean circumstances, but Lindholm never apologizes for their crimes. Instead, the victims of “A Hijacking” are Hartmann and his crewmates. Clear-headed and relentlessly gripping, it is easily the pick of the week and might be the best theatrical release of the year, so far.

A Hijacking

Director: Tobias Lindholm
Cast: Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Dar Salim
Running Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Rating: R

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit

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