This Danish film about the pirating of a cargo ship is subdued yet nerve racking.
Writer and director Tobias Lindholm (R and co-writer on the upcoming The Hunt) creates a simple story — a cargo ship is taken hostage in the middle of the ocean. At the foreground of the hijacking is the ship’s cook Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbæk), who acts as the audience’s insider to the crisis. Thousands of miles away is Peter (Søren Malling) CEO of the company that owns the ship. After learning that Somali pirates have overtaken the ship, he calls in outside help to figure how best to deal with the situation. Their first suggestion is that Peter also hire an outside negotiator, someone who doesn’t have an emotional connection to the situation. But Peter is an excellent negotiator, seen through an early seen with Japanese businessmen, and refuses to let anyone handle the burden.
Despite the tricky situation all those involved expect, and certainly hope for, a quick end to the situation, even Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) the translator who swears he’s not a pirate. Of course, it’s not so simple. Whereas the expectation is that the lingering negotiations will create suspense on the ship, it’s actually the negotiations themselves that are the heart of the film. Although Peter is a seasoned, even excellent, negotiator in business this isn’t a situation that he’s as prepared for as he wants to believe. As Peter slowly watches as time drags on, Mikkel is subjected to psychological warfare by Omar as he becomes the one begging Peter to just pay the money already. The suspense at anticipating the outcome of Mikkel and his fellow crewman is heightened as time seems to perpetually slow down.
What Lindholm understands and executes expertly is that the crux of the situation isn’t about the paying of the money to free the hostages. Of course that’s what the endgame is for the pirates but as Peter slowly understands, the negotiation itself is what’s most important. If he had immediately agreed to Omar’s demands he would be seen as weak and Omar would most likely press him for more. Instead, Peter is thrust into a situation that seems to have less and less urgency but increasingly takes a toll on his psyche as he just wants to get his crew home safe and sound. It’s a film that builds incrementally and subtly without ever losing tension. The claustrophobia of Mikkel on the ship is mirrored through the room Peter and his co-workers negotiate through. He’s never seen outside of the office building and his only contact to the outside world is when his wife comes to visit, and to check up on him.
But what really makes the film a delight is that it digs into the situation and doesn’t rely on the flailing emotions of Mikkel’s worried family, or the family members of the other crewmen. Instead it illustrates that Peter is as much a victim of the hijacking as Mikkel is, even if Mikkel and his crewmen can’t understand that. For everyone involved it’s a delicate situation and even those back home begin to break at the seams.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5