“Time is a Western concept”. It’s a critical line in Tobias Hindholm’s A Hijacking that acknowledges the growing sense of anxiety and tension in the air. Detailing a hostage situation where Somali pirates overtake a Danish liner, Hindholm probes the blue-collar plights of a cook on board the ship as well as the white collar negotiation tactics of the executives responsible for the vessel. Intercutting the two claustrophobic settings (treading ocean waters and in an office), Hindholm regularly includes timestamps into his frame. As days turn to weeks and then to months, the well-defined characterization of the film’s principles buckle under the weight of mounting stress. Strategic though never manipulative, A Hijacking is exemplifies taut efficiency as the sense of time is encapsulated in every action of its plotting. So rare is it to see a film so compact and well-designed, showing such clear grasp of time and the mounting strains of its characters.
The cook (Pilou Asbæk) is initially seen talking to his wife and daughter. Advising his family that he’ll be a couple days late coming home, Hindholm immediately, if not blatantly, introduces a palpable sense of urgency to his film. We’re then introduced to the cutthroat business practices of the liners CEO Peter (Søren Malling), displaying rigid authority and confidence that would serve to his detriment later in the picture. Hindholm positions these two characters within the schematic of his narrative like chess pieces. Throughout the opening of the film, prior to the actual entrapment of the ship’s crew, these two characters are defined by their cunning, strategy, and heart. It then becomes an endurance test for the two, who utilize their own skills to attempt to resolve the situation, both inside the ship and within the confines of the liner’s posh headquarters.
What A Hijacking unfolds to is a procedural where tension is presented through subtle gestures. With the physiological damage taking its tolls on the crew and the strains of trying to negotiate terms with terrorists, Hindholm moves with economic efficiency. This is one of those films that never wastes a second, extracting suspense out of every hushed pause and slight glance. Perhaps something so exacting may come across as too cold to register emotionally, but even then the film’s true “twist” is a heart-wrenching realization of familial obligation and business ethics. The perpetual ticking clock that Hindholm deploys then becomes something larger, wherein the psychological tolls reverberate outside of the ocean liner and office. Formally immaculate and relentlessly fascinating, A Hijacking succeeds as a calculating piece of genre filmmaking that outlines a trajectory from the start and delivers with propulsive force.