Nobody likes it when Hollywood's lack of originality leads to multiple films on the same subject, but the sudden abundance of Somali pirate movies has been something different altogether. Between Danish film A Hijacking and Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips we've seen two sides of story, but the most compelling film of them all is the one few have heard of....yet. Cutter Hodierne's directorial debut, the gorgeously shot and visceral Fishing without Nets, takes us into the ugly desperation that molds one quiet Somali fisherman into a hijacker putting everything on the line.
In a small, trash-ridden and devastated Somali village that once thrived on the fishing industry, fishermen like Abdi (breakout star Abdikani Muktar) are now finding no fish in their daily haul. With few options, the soft-spoken Abdi must make a difficult decision. Either stick it out in hopes of a recovery that seems unlikely, or spend their last few dollars smuggling his loved ones to Yemen where there is at least a small chance of hope. In the end there isn't really much of a choice to be made, and after saying good-bye to his family, Abdi is ripped apart by loneliness and yearning to be reunited with them. Without money he may never see them again, so he makes the fateful decision to join a Somali pirate band staging their next attack in hopes of making some real money.
Like a Coen Brothers film set on the high seas, Fishing without Nets thrusts us into a man-made prison of greed, hopelessness, and violence. The pirate attack is swift, efficient, and captured with the immediacy of Greengrass' film if not more so. But the taking of the vessel is always the easy part. It's what happens next where things never seem to go as planned, and divisions start to form within the already-agitated pirate group. There's aggression between the paranoid aggressive upstarts who want their money at all costs and the calmer, more affluent ring leaders who know hostage negotiation takes time. And in the middle of this is Abdi, who repeatedly proclaims himself to be a simple fisherman, who becomes friends with the most highly-valued hostage (they make clear minorities are worthless) and makes himself a target.
Based on his own short story which won the top prize at Sundance two years ago, Hodierne expands on that film as skillfully as he fleshes out a world we think we know. As a palpable anxiety and fear takes hold amongst the captives and captors alike, we're left to consider the fate of poor, peaceful Abdi all the way until the emotional gut-punch of a conclusion.