Opens Fri., July 5 at Harvard Exit. Rated R. 99 minutes.
Movies are good at showing horror or panic or a sudden flight into action, but what about simply stewing in helpless, bored, sweaty fear? And what if that situation drags on for months aboard a hijacked freighter, with no dramatic rescue in sight? The achievement of this Danish procedural by Tobias Lindholm—who also wrote the forthcoming The Hunt, also seen at SIFF—lies in its matter-of-fact economy of tale. Shipping company CEO Peter (Søren Malling) takes charge of the ransom negotiations, but his sole weapon is the satellite phone. Ship’s cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk) is the frightened everyman on the MV Rozen, and there’s never any question of his going Bruce Willis on his AK-47-wielding Somali captors. Instead, this is a waiting game, a slow series of bids (beginning at $15 million), rejections, and counteroffers while the human poker chips grow sick and possibly insane.
Cutting claustrophobically between his two locations, Lindholm contrasts Peter’s cool Copenhagen office and the sweltering ship, where food runs out and goats are brought aboard for slaughter. Peter has rich-white-people problems: a nagging board, curious media, incompetent underlings, and a lack of fresh French-cuffed shirts from the laundry. Mikkel’s ordeal is emphatically Third World: heat, hunger, and filth that make him resent the stingy suits back home. There’s even a suggestion of Stockholm syndrome when the crew catch a few fish for a communal meal. They and their captors share the only festive song they all know: “Happy Birthday.”
Lindholm makes the questionable decision not to use subtitles for the Somali pirates (their leader Omar, played by Abdihakin Asgar, speaks English), but it contributes to the crew’s fearful lack of information. Mikkel and a muscled engineer (Roland Møller) are separated from the others; gunshots are heard; what are they—and we—to think? In this sparse drama of withholding and bluffing, we never even learn what cargo the ship is carrying to India, what it’s worth, or how well it’s insured. In a trade-dependent port city such as ours, do we ever know what’s inside all those stacked shipping containers? And of any one vessel’s crew, Lindholm asks, who would miss them if they were gone?