15A cert,ifi/light House, Dublin, 103 min
Directed by Tobias Lindholm. Starring Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek, Gary Skjoldmose Porter Some months before Tom Hanks faces up to contemporary pirates in Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips, Tobias Lindholm – writer of the TV series Borgen – offers up a procedural take on the same subject matter in this hugely impressive Danish feature. It’s a cold piece; characterisation is sketchy. But the accumulation of detail and the authentic bureaucratic fug are brilliantly maintained.
Lindholm divides the action between a ship in the Indian Ocean and the offices of the vessel’s company in Copenhagen. Maintaining restraint throughout, the film-makers do not show us the takeover. We see the captain talking to his wife at home. Some time later, we return to discover the vessel overrun by Somali pirates.
The black crew members are bundled into the lower decks – they are worth less, apparently – while an uncomfortable, twitchy relationship develops between the Europeans and their captors. The burly cook, played warmly by Pilou Asbæk, stands in for the audience.
Back in Denmark, an English hostage negotiator has been called in to supervise the shipping company’s deliberations. Gary Skjoldmose Porter was originally an adviser on the film, and he is unquestionably the real thing. You can’t fake the icy dispassionate manner that characterises professionals in these quasi-military fields. He urges the authorities to begin by offering a fraction of the asking price and to then settle down for a lengthy crisis. Weeks go by.
Decent liberal audiences will find things to worry about in the depictions of the Somali villains. One cannot, however, fault Lindholm’s commitment to messy authenticity. It moves queasily to a quiet conclusion and then deals a rapid, vicious blow to the throat. Highly recommended.