"Promise me not to get mad, ok," says Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) down the phone to his wife, "I'll be home on the 17th, not the 15th." Chef aboard the cargo ship MV Rozen, Mikkel is not far from port in Mumbai and counting the days till he will be back with his family in Denmark.
That same day Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), CEO of the Danish shipping company that employs Mikkel, has just swiftly closed a tough negotiation with a rival Japanese firm when news comes in that the Rozen and its international seven-man crew have been hijacked by armed Somali pirates. Insisting, against the advice of corporate security expert Connor (Gary Skjoldmose Porter), on personally handling the situation, Peter enters a protracted dialogue with the cynical hijackers, while the men on board deteriorate and despair.
"I can't have you showing any emotions," Connor warns Peter, precisely articulating the minimalist approach of writer/director Tobias Lindholm (co-writer of Thomas Vinterberg's The Hunt and television's Borgen). For the considerable tensions of A Hijacking derive not from melodrama, heroics or triumphalism, but rather from the very lack of these. It is a taut, stripped down affair, shot largely in handheld as though a fly-on-the-wall documentary, while the sense of gripping authenticity is only enhanced by the casting of Porter (a real-life negotiator) and by the filming on a ship that had previously been subjected to actual high-seas piracy.
Lindholm is concerned less with violent action (which is kept almost entirely offscreen) than with the ruinous psychological impact that this has on all those affected, on board and at home. Everyone – even the pirates – may be working towards a homecoming, but any happy ending to this austere odyssey can only come heavily qualified.