Somali pirates and Danish businessmen engage in a lengthy psychological battle over a ransom payment while the fate of seven cargo ship hostages becomes increasingly shaky in the Danish drama "A Hijacking."
Written and directed by the ascending Tobias Lindholm, who reaps suspense from authentic scenarios and keeps his characters human, the film is a modestly scaled, zombie-free gem.
Lindholm, who has collaborated on screenplays with director Thomas Vinterberg ("The Hunt") and worked on Danish TV, has made a heroics-free drama inspired by real events in a style suggesting something between the anti-artifice films of the Denmark-based Dogme 95 collective and Kathryn Bigelow's semirealist hot-spot suspensers.
Lindholm demonstrates his aversion to gangbusters-style storytelling almost immediately: the takeover of a Danish cargo ship in the Indian Ocean by trigger-happy Somali gunmen happens off-screen.
When viewers meet them, the pirates have taken the crew members, including the easygoing cook, Mikkel (Pilou Asbaek), hostage.
Negotiations ensue, via phone and fax, between the hijackers' spokesman (Abdihakin Asgar) and a Copenhagen-based CEO named Peter (Soren Malling) whose company operates the ship.
When the pirates demand a $15 million ransom, and Peter, advised by a hostage negotiator, offers only $250,000, it becomes clear that the hostages can expect an ordeal.
The drama alternates between Copenhagen and the ship, and frustrations mount in both settings. At sea, conditions are filthy, food supplies have dwindled and Mikkel is unraveling.
In Copenhagen, Peter, pressured to finalize the negotiations, begins losing patience with the volatile hijackers.
Hostage dramas, including classier fare like "Argo," are generally resolved in contrived ways, and Lindholm bucks that drift. Yet it backfires a bit. A late-inning plot shocker may add shades that Lindholm seeks, but it's dramatically hard to buy.
Still, the movie is a believable, suspenseful thriller with an immediate, urgent feel. It also provides an interesting glimpse into the world of hostage negotiating (thanks partly to Lindholm's casting of a real-life hostage negotiator in that very role).
Among the solid cast, Asbaek, whose character's uncertain fate supplies much of the film's suspense, is especially effective.
three and a half stars
Starring Pilou Asbaek, Soren Malling, Abdihakin Asgar
Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm
Running time 1 hour, 39 minutes