When a Danish cargo vessel is hijacked, the crew face a lengthy ordeal while company reps and a hostage negotiator embark on tense negotiations. The ships cook is the most useful to his captors, who manipulate him mercilessly.
In Hollywood hostage dramas the ship’s cook would usually be either a Steven Seagal with a backstory as a commando and mixed martial artist or a Bruce Willis-type maverick who will outwit the baddies in a series of demented action set-pieces. There will be lots of melodrama elsewhere, with shrieking relatives urging the rescue of their loved ones while official types sweat over strategies. But this is a Danish film, and it’s a lot more sophisticated than that.
It’s no surprise that Tobias Lindholm, Borgen writer and Thomas Vinterberg’s collaborator on Submarine and The Hunt, has written a superior psychological drama. What’s even more impressive is that in only his second film as a director, Lindholm ratchets up the tension and a steadily colder, more disturbing tone, with rigorous realism and spare, austere style. He even skips the obvious, presumably violent, boarding of the vessel by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. We have met the cook, Mikkel (Borgen’s Kasper, Pilou Asbæk), who is looking forward to rejoining his wife and child on land. We have also met the CEO of the export company that owns the ship, Peter (Søren Malling, Borgen’s TV news editor, Friis), a skilled businessman who relishes tough negotiation.
Then we are as stunned as they are when suddenly the ship is found to be in the hands of volatile, trigger-happy barbarians who are not to be reasoned with by any traditional business model. Many of the crew are clearly missing, their fates a mystery, while Mikkel does his best to keep his head down and, when forced, communicate the hijackers’ unreasonable demands to Peter. Peter feels responsible to ‘his’ men and their distressed families, but his board want him to wrap it up, at minimal cost. Months pass, Mikkel’s mental state deteriorating fearfully and Peter’s confidence crumbling under professional and emotional strain. Whatever the outcome (and there is an almighty last-minute shock), neither will be the same.
A slow burner; intense, utterly engrossing and believable.