The scourge of piracy in the Indian Ocean is a tricky subject for a modern movie thriller. It's hard to know exactly who to root for. While the pirates are lawbreakers and often murderers, they're also dark-skinned renegades from one of the most god-forsaken regions in the world; one could argue that they're just extracting sustenance from the passing world that has no use for them. And then, on the other side, there are the shipping companies, who aren't all that sympathetic: They pay rock-bottom wages to sailors drawn from poor nations, and when their ships are hijacked, they dicker with the pirates for weeks to settle on a price, regardless of the threats their crews face.
And then there are the men at sea: Able seaman or pirate, it's always been a job for the desperate, or desperately unlucky. In the tense but formulaic Danish drama A Hijacking, the best scenes are concerned with the relationship between captors and their captives. The film zeroes in on three members of a Danish boat's crew, especially Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), the uncomplicated, good-hearted cook, and two members of the pirate crew: a sullen, twitchy youngster dangerously in love with his AK-47, and Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), a sophisticated English speaker who claims to be merely a freelance intermediary, not an actual pirate.
But far too much of the film is dully taken up with the conscience-stricken owner of the shipping company, who disregards professional advice and decides to be the point man for negotiations. While we learn some things about why trained proxy negotiators are useful in these situations, Søren Malling's Peter, the shipping executive, is opaque and underwritten. We feel no investment in his plight even as he personally oversees negotiations for weeks that turn into months. And, despite a promising scene or two, nothing comes of the relationship between Mikkel and Omar on the boat. The result is a mechanical, unmemorable film.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Teenager, sailor, survivor, killer."