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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Hijacking

To continue with the theme of hijacked ships this week, this is a review I wrote for another blog on August 5, 2013.

Quick, precise, and severe, the film spends little time on the mechanics of how the pirates actually board. This is not an action film. We learn that a high-speed boat has approached and boarded effortlessly, that’s it. More important to the film is what happens while the pirates are onboard.

The first thing the pirates do, even before starting negotiations for money, is demand food. The ship’s cook, played brilliantly by Danish actor Pilou Asbaek, becomes the pirate’s gopher, and an ad-hoc negotiator between the pirates and the ship’s owners.

Conditions onboard are miserable. Shocking even. The cook and 2 other crewmen are kept in a small closet for weeks, four other crewmembers below deck. They’re not allowed out to relive themselves in a toilet; they must use a corner of the room. My training on ships did not include images like these. There was no training about how to interact with maniacs with automatic weapons.

The job of casting the actors that play the pirates is ingenious. All the actor’s performances are in the Somali language (I think). Their interactions with the ship’s crew are so authentic that I’m guessing none of these men were trained actors. Probably just local Somali men recruited by the casting director, but I can’t verify this. If they were actors, they’re the best I’ve ever seen.  

Contentious negotiations between the ship’s owners and the pirates leave questions. The hijacking ends without incident, almost, but the negotiations take months. Could the ship’s owner have done more? Given in to the pirate’s demands sooner? Gotten the crew home faster? Undoubtedly questions that need to be asked of the real hijackings that take place routinely in the Gulf, where we get little more than a single paragraph in the news about some, and no more.

Errata: There is no military presence here. It seems unlikely that a cargo ship would be held hostage for months without attracting some kind of military presence. The fact that the all the negotiations themselves are handled by the shipping company, and are not handed over to the military entirely seems implausable, especially when compared to the Greengrass version where the military handles everything.