A Hijacking (Kapringen) review

What better way to ride the crest of the Scandinavian wave, a marketing bod might suggest, than by literally putting Borgen’s beardy Kasper (Asbæk) on a hijacked boat? This is no cynical exercise though; this is no Danish Die Hard. We don’t see a perfectly turned-out Asbæk manipulating Somali pirates with PR smarts, or dispatching them with well-timed knife throws and accompanying quips.

Instead, we get an unkempt man slowly breaking under prolonged and agonising psychological torture. The only knife skills on display are those he’s learned as a chef, chopping vegetables to satisfy his captors. And while he does wear a white vest, he does so throughout under the scorching Indian Ocean sun; you can practically taste the unholy stench. We’re not in Copenhagen any more...

A fictionalised tale, director Lindholm’s film nonetheless draws heavily on real-life events and incorporates a cast who know all too well the horror of hijackings. Together with a genuine hostage negotiator ostensibly playing himself, there are extras who spent time in captivity. The result is an unsparingly realistic portrayal of how these events play out.

The film moves at a crawl, but is never less than gripping, and the pace produces the very frustration you’re meant to share with those on screen. Each time the hostages think they’ve made headway with the inscrutable pirates – forging connections through fishing or drinking songs – they’re emphatically reminded these people are not their friends. Stockholm syndrome: the irony doesn’t need labouring.

For all the superb acting onboard the hijacked Rosen, however, the real star and drama of the piece is found in the boardrooms of the Danish freighter firm back home. CEO Peter Ludvigsen (another Borgen-ite, Malling) is a ball-busting businessman not used to losing. At the start we see him besting a group of Japanese suits by walking out of a meeting when they refuse to lower their price. Naturally, he gets a bargain. But Ludvigsen is used to negotiating with people who play by the rules, and where only money is at stake. Is he up to getting his people home, and should he even be responsible?

“You have to be patient,” an advisor soberly intones to him. “Time is a Western concept, it means nothing to them.” It’s a thought that recurs time and again as the grand exercise in frustration continues: Ludvigsen suggesting a low figure, being beaten back, returning with another, only to have a hostage threatened and endure silence for days before knowing their fate. He is as much a prisoner of the situation as those floating many miles away – and the toll taken on him and his family is uncomfortably discernible thanks to Malling’s muted but mesmerising performance.

You never know how long the hijacking will last or whether everyone will make it through safely. It’s a testament to the film that you’ll truly care about those outcomes.

A Hijacking (Kapringen) at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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