Tag Archives: C+

A HIJACKING

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

C+

Most movies about hostage crises are rightly criticized for being over-the-top affairs, crammed with unlikely coincidences, comic-book heroics and flamboyant rants on both sides of the negotiating table. So it seems rather ungracious to point out that Tobias Lindholm’s film, which breaks the mold by depicting the seizure of a Danish ship by Somali pirates and the back-and-forth between the hijackers and the ship’s owner in a naturalistic fashion, is worthy more of respect than enthusiasm. To be sure, “A Hijacking” contains occasional dramatic outbursts, both on board the vessel between hostages and their captors, and back in the office building where the CEO of the affected company must deal with the crewmen’s families and his own board of directors. But it’s more interested in portraying the long stretches of tedium that those outbursts periodically interrupt, and frankly that doesn’t make for a particularly exciting or revealing ride.

The story begins when the Danish cargo ship Rozen, on the way to Mumbai, is taken over by a group of rifle-wielding men. The crew is forced into confinement below deck, while word of the seizure is passed to Peter Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), a fastidious, deliberate man expert at outmaneuvering business competitors. And despite recommendations that he hand over responsibility for negotiating an end to the crisis to others, Peter insists on handling the matter himself.

That leads to a long, grueling series of ship-to-shore conversations with Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the pirates’ translator, who insists that he’s merely a middleman and not one of the captors. The demands are initially enormous, with Ludvigsen responding with counter-offers that increase incrementally as the situation drags on. The whole process is presented as an extension of Peter’s regular business practices, though he’s cognizant that the stakes are higher and the people he’s dealing with more volatile and violent.

Meanwhile aboard the Rozen the focus is on Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek), the cook who was about to leave his job after docking at Mumbai and is looking forward to rejoining his wife Marian (Amalie Alstrup) and young daughter Kamilla (Amalie Vulff Anderson) in Copenhagen. A gregarious, likable guy, he becomes the linchpin of the connections on the ship as he prepares food for both his fellow crewmen and their captives, and becomes the hostage closest to Omar. But as the situation drags on—with intertitles showing the passage of days—his mood becomes increasingly desperate, and in a call to his wife he urges her to put pressure on Ludvigsen to pay the price for the crew’s release. That, of course, shifts the scene back to Denmark, where debate over how to handle the situation grows more and more intense.

But while the situation takes on greater urgency, Lindholm holds back, refusing to resort to the usual tropes and tricks to maximize suspense. He, cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck and editor Adam Nielsen are mostly content to allow the story to unfold in a rigorously straightforward fashion (a few sequences, mostly involving Marian, apart), with an apparent artlessness that doesn’t quite conceal the calculation behind it. The intent is to ratchet up the tension without seeming to be using cinematic devices to do so. But while there’s a certain tautness to the result, the many longeuers along the way almost make one yearn for an infusion of good old Hollywood pizzazz.

The acting is of a piece with the director’s approach, striving for a sense of authenticity that it mostly achieves. And visually the film certainly achieves a near-documentary look. But in the end its dispassion fails to generate the emotional catharsis it’s aiming for.

IN A WORLD…

Producer: 
Director: 
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: 

C+

In a world in which Don LaFontaine, the universally acknowledged voice-over master, is no longer around to intone those three famous words at the beginning of movie trailers, the profession he ruled for so long in person and still does in memory receives satirical treatment in Lake Bell’s comedy, which she wrote, directed and stars in as Carol Solomon, a girl trying to break into the male-dominated business. “In a World…” is a good deal smarter than most big-budget romantic comedies, but its shrillness makes it less pleasurable than it should be.

Carol is the daughter of one of the stars of the business, honey-voiced baritone Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), who’s about to receive the profession’s lifetime achievement award. But she’s struggling to find any gigs, and to make her situation worse, Sam, with whom she’s lived for years, informs her that she’ll have to move out to make room for his young girlfriend Jamie (Alexandra Holden). With nowhere else to go, she decamps to the apartment of her sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), a hotel concierge, and her boyfriend Moe (Rob Corddry), a film editor working at home.

Meanwhile Louis (Demetri Martin), the chief engineer at the studio where she records the few jobs she gets, is obviously smitten with her, and encourages her to audition for the voice-over job on the trailer for “Amazon Games,” a high-concept adventure flick predicted to be the next franchise smash. The script will begin with LaFontaine’s famous phrase, and since her dad has excused himself from the competition, the odds-on favorite to get the gig is his arrogant protégé Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), with whom—coincidentally—she’s just spent a night after a party at his pad. When Sam hears that his daughter is a serious contender for the spot, he jumps back into the running himself, unwilling to see her grab such a plum assignment.

It wouldn’t be fair to go much further, or to reveal the surprise cameo that accompanies the revelation of the victor. But it certainly doesn’t spoil things to say that in most other respects—romantic and familial—Bell’s script follows a fairly predictable upbeat trajectory. That’s true even in a curious subplot involving Dani’s almost dalliance with a smooth-talking Irish guest (Jason O’Mara) whose accent intrigues Carol, which leads Moe to take a hike. Nor is it a secret that there are briefer turns by other recognizable folk like Eva Longoria, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro and Geena Davis, with Longoria’s especially funny.

But ultimately “In a World…” is undone by Bell in her threefold capacity. As writer she overstuffs the screenplay, mixing in rather too many subplots for comfort; perhaps too much is better than too little, but the problem remains, especially since it means that as director Bell has to rush things along at times. And that affects her performance. She’s attractive, in a rather unconventional way, and is clearly up to progressing from the second-string work she’s done in big romantic comedies to this point. But too often she comes across as strident and pushy here, and as a result is a tad irritating. It’s a pleasure, though, to watch Melamed and Martin at work; both bring shadings to what might have been stock characters (something Marino doesn’t manage). Corddry is nicely laid-back—not an adjective one might think of regarding him—and Watkins is fine, and technically the picture belies its modest budget, with Seamus Tierney’s cinematography, Megan Fenton’s production design, Ashley Fenton’s art direction and Tom McArdle’s editing all quite good.

“In a World…” has so many things going for it—not least the fascinating, out-of-the-way corner of show business it’s set in—that it’s a pity that as a whole it comes up short. It should serve, however, as a first-rate calling card for Bell in the future.