With this little Danish film about piracy in the Indian Ocean, the natural point of comparison is last year’s Captain Phillips (which of course came out afterwards, but such being the way of these things, I saw it first). There’s no doubt they cover a similar subject, but for various rather obvious reasons the way they go about it is quite different. Where the bigger budget film uses spectacular shots of the container ship’s crews fighting off the pirates and then the struggle for power onboard, this film is more about the way that the hijacking situation affects a couple of characters. One is the ship’s cook, a young man with a wife and child back home, and the other is the CEO of the shipping company in Denmark.
The settings are the staff quarters of the ship where the cook (Pilou Asbæk) and his colleagues are being held, and the boardroom of the offices where the CEO works (Søren Malling), and the drama largely unfolds in crackling telephone communications between the CEO and the pirates’ negotiator (he gets rather aggrieved when identified as one of the pirates), Omar. The film interests itself in the subtly shifting power dynamics amongst these groups, as well as within them — between the CEO and his second-in-command, between the CEO and Omar, and between Omar and the cook. Some of this is done so subtly that it’s not even clear the power has shifted, and certainly the advice the CEO gets from hijacking experts is to draw things out and grind the pirates down over time. This of course, though it may be good for the company by minimising any financial loss, has its own set of effects both on public opinion (towards which the company’s board are rather sensitive) and to the captives who find themselves at sea for many gruelling months.
The camera holds close to the two main characters, with some handheld work but not too immersively queasy (this is no Breaking the Waves). It’s a character study more than anything else, and it wants to draw out how the drama on the high seas reaches into the personal life of a relatively entitled and protected man. The CEO is seen negotiating a financial deal at the start for vastly more money than the pirates demand, and if it’s a rather obvious parallelism, it never feels too hamfisted because it’s not overemphasised. There are certainly places where you feel that maybe the writing could be a bit less subtle, but it’s staking out a different emotional terrain. In any case, the excellent, naturalistic acting grounds the film and makes it easy to get wrapped up in.
Director/Writer Tobias Lindholm; Cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck; Starring Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Tuesday 18 February 2014.