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'A Hijacking' movie review: Tense Danish thriller is worthy summer fare

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A Hijacking

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Somali pirates hijack a European ship in a scenario ripped from recent news headlines. Tense negotiations with the corporation that owns the vessel ensue, while the lives of crew members hang in the balance.

The latest Hollywood summer blockbuster opening this weekend on 3,000 screens? Nah, just the top-notch Danish thriller A Hijacking, playing in 20 or so theaters across the country – one of which, thankfully, is the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema here in Atlanta (as of July 5).

The excellent script, written by Tobias Lindhom (who also directs), establishes the key players with cool efficiency. Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) is the ship’s cook, a friendly chap beloved by the crew but eager to return home to his wife and young child after weeks at sea.

On land, the shipping company’s CEO Peter (Søren Malling) has never meet a business deal he couldn’t turn to his advantage. “Lars,” he instructs an underling, “when you need my help – and you clearly needed it here – then get me right away. Understood?” Mikkel and Peter couldn’t be more different, yet they soon find themselves key players in the same nightmarish scenario.

When the pirates storm the boat and crowd the crew into cramped, decrepit living conditions, Mikkel must use all his culinary skills, friendly ways and survival instincts to make it through the ordeal. Meanwhile, Peter finds himself embroiled in negotiations unlike any he’s ever experienced, where lives are on the line and monetary dealings stretch out over months rather than hours.

With the board of directors breathing down his neck and the crew members’ families hanging on his every move, can Peter reach an agreement with the pirates while bringing his employees home safely? And will Mikkel survive long enough to be reunited with his family?

You’ve seen kidnapping and hostage stories similar to this before. And while the screenplay doesn’t blow up the boat, so to speak, it’s tightly constructed and adds just enough new wrinkles to keep the story fresh – and the viewer pinned to the edge of the seat.

Lindholm, in only his second feature film, displays a welcome knack for restraint. It’s not that he’s averse to building tension or delivering laughs. It’s just that he knows when to reel it in. Instead of overplaying key moments, he subtracts sound, light or distances the viewer from the scene, and the result is more powerful. This is a director to watch.

The idea of constructing the film around the yin and yang of Mikkel and Peter is genius, and A Hijacking benefits mightily from its two towering lead performances. Asbæk makes his character’s congeniality seem authentic – a task easier said than done. And as Mikkel unravels under the stress, Asbæk makes his breakdown heartbreaking.

As the steely CEO, Malling looks the part of the cliché, with his tightly cropped hair, glasses and immaculate suits, not to mention his cool dealings with subordinates. But while Malling plays the hard-ass executive to perfection, it’s his flashes of unbridled emotion that make A Hijacking stick with you.

The threat of violence hangs over A Hijacking as the film careens toward its conclusion, infusing it with a feeling of unpredictability right through its final frame. This Danish import might not be playing at a zillion multiplexes, but A Hijacking is brainy entertainment that delivers the thrills you expect of the best summer movie fare.

Grade: A-

"A Hijacking" opens in Atlanta on July 5 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Follow me at http://twitter.com/ATLFilmExaminer.

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