Monday, January 19, 2015

Plunder On the Phone

Two groups of people, one from a country of general affluence and comfort, the other from a country of pervasive poverty, would find interacting with each other, confined on a small ship, awkward at best. Imagine if the latter group are pirates and the former their captives, like in 2012's A Hijacking (Kapringen). A Danish crew of a trawler on its way to Mumbai find themselves at the mercy of Somali pirates and their CEO back in Denmark has to negotiate with the pirate leader by phone. Mostly it's a film of fascinatingly authentic characters and juxtapositions.

My least favourite part of the movie is its whiny protagonist, the ship's cook, Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbaek). The film opens with him stressing out about telling his wife over the phone that he's going to be two days later getting home than expected and her chewing him out for it. I thought, "What an annoying guy and what an annoying wife." I guess they're perfect for each other.

When the pirates take over, Mikkel spends most of the time as a quivering puddle of jelly except when he's pleading with the only English speaking pirate, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), to let him and the crew go.

Asgar gives my favourite performance in the film. He claims to be merely a translator, as much a hostage as the rest of them, but of course, as he initially appears, he's actually in charge of the pirates. But Asgar plays it completely straight so even when the state of affairs is clear from the start he kind of makes you doubt it. The point of this is so that Omar doesn't have to represent himself as the decision maker to Peter (Soren Malling), the CEO back in Denmark--instead of saying he'll think about whatever Peter's latest ransom offer is, he can say, "I'll pass your offer on but you're crazy, I think they're going to kill us if you don't give them the 15 million they asked for."

And Peter's my second favourite part of the film, introduced calling the bluff of a group of Japanese businessmen in an unrelated trade. Considering himself a master of boardroom negotiation, he's suddenly forced to realise how petty his world his when he finds himself negotiating for human lives. We see his girlfriend visit his office twice during the film, the first time he drops everything under the playful idea that she has complete power over him. The second time she tries to play the same game and he finds himself suddenly furious, because now the thing she's interrupted is him brooding over someone maybe having died because of him.

Most of the pirates were cast in Kenya and despite many of them being first time actors all of them give very good performances.

I have to say, if the hijacking portrayed is in any way typical of Somali pirate hijackings, they're a lot nicer than seventeenth and eighteenth century pirates. None of the captives had their fingers broken, no one was put naked in a barrel filled with gunpowder while someone held a lit fuse to his face. Maybe I shouldn't give out ideas.

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