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Ransom!/A Hijacking

Posted by martinteller on July 16, 2013

Purely by happenstance, I ended up watching two movies back-to-back with very similar topics.  I didn’t plan it but since it worked out that way, I might as well lump the reviews together.

Ransom! – Dave Stannard (Glenn Ford) is the president of one of the top vacuum cleaner manufacturers.  On the day he leaves work early to spend more time with his son Andy (Bobby Clark), the child is kidnapped.  Dave and his wife Edith (Donna Reed) wait for further news, along with Dave’s brother Al (Ainslie Pryor), police chief Backett (Robert Keith) and pushy reporter Charlie Telfer (Leslie Nielsen).  When the ransom demand comes, Dave is faced with a difficult decision.  The police tell him the odds of his boy’s survival are the same whether he pays the money or not.  So why pay?

Originally a teleplay (and later remade by Ron Howard with Mel Gibson), the story is loosely based on (or inspired by) a true story from Kansas City.  It’s an intriguing little chamber drama.  Because of its television roots, most of the scenes take place within the Stannard home, though a few exterior scenes were added.  The film isn’t big on action.  We see never the kidnapping take place or police rounding up suspects.  In fact, we never see the criminals at all.  Instead, the focus is on the father’s moral dilemma, the psychological underpinnings that lead him to his decisions.

It’s an unusual take on a kidnapping scenario, with a complex performance by Ford and a strong one by Keith (Nielsen, in his first role, isn’t that hot).  There’s also wonderful support by two greats: Juanita Moore and Juano Hernandez.  Unfortunately, their roles — as servants — are rather small, but Hernandez has a couple of fantastic moments.  Where the film falters is in its treatment of Reed’s character.  Although she does a fine job with the role, the mother is portrayed as hysterical and useless.  In a way, this is to the film’s advantage in that it adds further complexity to Ford’s character in his treatment of her.  But it doesn’t speak very well of the outdated attitudes about women.

Besides this, it’s a solid drama with thoughtful material.  Good use of close-ups.  Rating: Good (75)

A Hijacking – The Danish freight MV Rozen and its crew of seven is hijacked by Somali pirates.  On board, the cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) frets that he will never see his wife (Amalie Ihle Astrup) and daughter (Amalie Vulff Andersen) again.  He also acts as a go-between, talking to the home office as the pirates’ negotiator/interpreter Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) tries to work out a deal.  Back in Denmark, the CEO of the freight line Peter Ludvigsen (Søren Malling) hires an Australian professional hostage/pirate negotiator named Connor Julian (Gary Skjoldmose Porter) as a consultant.  Julian advises him not to cave in immediately to the pirates’ demands, knowing they will simply call it a “deposit” and demand more.  And thus begins a series of negotiations that goes on for days, weeks, even months as the lives of Mikkel and the crew hang in the balance.

Like Ransom!, the story is loosely based on true events, the hijacking of the actual MV Rozen in 2007.  In fact, four of the crewmen in the film (the non-white ones) are actual crew from previously hijacked ships.  But it’s not the true story of the Rozen.  Director Tobias Lindholm mainly drew inspiration from the hijackings of the Danica White in 2007 and the CEC Future in 2008.  So if the details don’t match the tale of the Rozen, the film isn’t meant to be — nor does it claim to be — a true story.

And of course both films center around the difficult decisions involved when people’s lives become bargaining chips.  To the film’s credit, it does not portray Peter as a heartless, greedy corporate tool interested only in the bottom line.  To deny that the commodification of human beings is an element of the film’s moral framework would be foolish, but there is a humanity to Peter, he struggles with his decisions and grows more desperate as time goes on.  In a sense, this movie has another parallel with Ransom! in that it mirrors a parental dynamic.  Peter is the paternal figure, called upon to think in logical, practical terms, trying to maintain a rigid presence in the face of difficult emotional strain.  As the cook, Mikkel is the most nurturing member of the crew, the maternal figure who looks after the comfort and sustenance of the other men.  The “family” is in crisis, and as in the 1956 movie, the “mother” is hit hardest.

Lindblom is a frequent collaborator with Thomas Vinterberg, and seems to have picked up some of Vinterberg’s Dogme95 aesthetics.  The cinematography is unglamorous, often handheld and poorly lit by common standards.  If the film has any scoring (there is a composer credited), it’s either not noticeable or only in the credit sequences.  The titular action occurs offscreen, not a moment of the actual capture is shown.  The Somali characters are not subtitled, the audience shares in the same confusion that the crew feels.  Nothing is tied up in a nice little bow at the end, there is lingering psychological damage.

Can we expect the same lack of Hollywoodization in the upcoming similar movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks?  Given that the director is United 93‘s Paul Greengrass, it’s possible.  It will be interesting to compare and contrast the two when the time comes.  But for now, A Hijacking is a fine piece of work, with superb performances by Asbæk and Malling, finely-honed dramatic tension over a prolonged time span, and intriguing social insight regarding the price of human lives in the modern era.  A bit sluggish in a few places, perhaps, but generally quite riveting.  Rating: Very Good (84)

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