Now Judge Gordon Sullivan knows how Cincinnati Reds fans felt.
"A cynical game of life and death."
It's not at all surprising that A Hijacking, a Danish film about a pirate hijacking, is being released on Blu-ray just as Captain Phillips, an American feature about pirate hijacking, hits theaters. Obviously A Hijacking (Blu-ray) hopes to benefit from the publicity around the Hollywood film, and there's no crime in that. However, viewers expecting the action spectacle of Paul Greengrass' Tom Hanks vehicle will be disappointed by the tense, claustrophobic thrills of A Hijacking. If viewers come into the film with an open mind, they will instead find a wonderfully realistic take on the terrors of the high seas.
Facts of the Case
On the Rosen, a crew of Danish sailors is just trying to make a living shipping cargo for the Orion Holding Company. Then some pirates board the ship, demanding $15 million. Peter Ludvigson (Søren Malling, A Royal Affair) is the CEO of Orion, and he's a no-nonsense negotiator who must balance the needs of his crew and the needs of the company as negotiations drag on.
A Hijacking is a film of two worlds. The first one we encounter is that of the ship. The world of shipping is a relatively boring one; daily routines and minor duties are all that break up the monotony of being stuck on a large hunk of floating steel. Of course, in A Hijacking, we almost immediately see this world fall apart as the pirates take over the vessel. This is not really an action movie moment, instead happening kind of quickly and efficiently. The film isn't particularly interested in the mechanics of a hijacking, but in setting up the world of a hijacked ship as realistically as possible.
Really, the film's investment is in the other world it depicts. A Hijacking does its best to move as quickly as possible from the vessel to the corporation that owns it and their tactics in negotiating with the pirates. It's the perfect setting for a film about corporations and the kind of alpha males who run them. Whatever we think of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street, he never really has to negotiate with someone who has a gun. In contrast, Ludvigson gets to test out his big-shot CEO tactics on someone with hostages: it's corporate raider versus high-seas raider. So, instead of tense action scenes, we get a much tighter drama that attempts to realistically give us a picture of the machinations that go into negotiating for hostages without the framework of the usual police/FBI story we're used to seeing.
It's a really brilliant move to pit these two worlds against each other. It gives the film a structure that allows it to cut back and forth; just when you get tired of one side or the other, the film shifts. More importantly, the contrast between the two worlds generates a lot of tension. We have desperate pirates on one side, and a bunch of corporate suits on the other. They're both playing a high stakes game, and it's hard not to read the film as comparing these two groups and finding quite a bit in common between the world of international corporations and international pirates.
The film's style is also refreshing. With a decent amount of handheld camerawork and a stark, digital look, A Hijacking has a certain "You are there" charm to it. The realism helps the film maintain its tension as the negotiations run their course, flattening the differences between the boardroom and the ship despite the huge geographic distance. I also appreciate that the film doesn't try to make the film a race to the finish. Negotiating for the release of hostages in A Hijacking takes months, and those months take a toll on the characters. The acting by all involved does a great job of registering that toll. Everyone starts out calm and confident but by the end everyone is a wreck.
A Hijacking (Blu-ray) is excellent. The film is not in any way pretty, instead opting for a more realistic, slightly desaturated look. With that said, this 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer does the film justice. It was shot digitally, so detail is strong throughout, and the drab confines of the corporate offices and the stranded ship feel equally realistic if not pretty. Black levels are appropriately deep and free of distracting noise, and compression artifacts are kept to a minimum due to all the room provided by this BD-50 disc. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly excellent. The all-important dialogue is richly rendered and always audible, while the surrounds get used to flesh out the aquatic and corporate atmospheres.
Extras consist of five featurettes that cover the making of the film, its relationship to historical hijacking cases, and interviews with the actors. It's only 15 minutes of material, but it does a fine job of fleshing out the film's background. Fans might want more, but what's here is good. The film's trailer is also included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those looking for a rousing, Tom Hanks-style emotional roller coaster will not find it in A Hijacking. The film relentlessly tries to examine what it's actually like: no daring dawn raids, no sudden double crosses, no triumphant hero. Instead it's a game of negotiation that pits businessmen against pirates with precious little in the way of official intervention. That makes it a more troubling work to watch than an heroic account of rescue would be. Those not willing to be a little depressed about the current situation with pirates and international shipping should probably skip this one.
A Hijacking is a harrowing drama about what happens when pirates take over a ship. Instead of an action fest, A Hijacking tries to trace the negotiations and emotional turmoil in as realistic a fashion as possible. While it's not the most "fun" you can have with a film, it does provide a worthwhile peek into a world that many American viewers will be unfamiliar with. The fact that A Hijacking (Blu-ray) offers a great presentation and a few extras makes it easy to recommend for rental to anyone who enjoys darker dramas and international intrigue that plays out on a personal scale.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Review content copyright © 2013 Gordon Sullivan; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.