Monday, 27 May 2013

Film Review: Kapringen (2012)

Director: Tobias Lindholm
Writer: Tobias Lindholm
Stars: Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling and Dar Salim

Modern films, regardless of budget, star power, or country of origin rarely come close to the near-perfection of Tobias Lindholm's Kapringen (A Hijacking). The film is terrifyingly believable and never lets up for a moment whilst always staying true to its realism without pandering to audience expectations.

Kapringen is a simple story; a Danish cargo ship and its seven crew member are taken hostage at the hands of Somali pirates who demand $15 million for the release. What follows over the course of the film’s 99 minutes is the dual story of the men on the boat and the men negotiating the ransom thousands of miles away in Denmark. Both stories are gripping in their realism and so much is at stake with every scene which unfolds, without a needless scene or line of wasted dialogue; the running time is perfect for the story. How often do you see a film where not one scene should be removed? Kapringen is such a film.

In Denmark, Peter Ludvigsen, the CEO of the shipping company, decides to take on the responsibility of negotiations despite specialists urging him not to for emotional ties will soon come into decision making. Earlier in the film we see him negotiate with Japanese businessmen and refuse to pay a dollar over his bottom line and Lindholm sets the character out as a ruthless negotiator who knows the value of money; the time taken to show Peter in his natural environment is crucial for the steep change of character Peter must undergo over the course of the negotiations over the gruelling 160+ days of the situation.

On the boat the film follows Mikkel, the cook, and two other men who are kept in a cramped room without access to a toilet for weeks. The desperation of the men is made all the more real thanks to the script’s complete lack of heroic or inspirational speeches; nothing is said in this film to rouse the audience for we never know that will happen from one scene to the next. Lindholm’s film is free of dramatic irony and keeps the audience as much in the dark as the hostages on the boat.

The interaction between the hostages and pirates is at first frightening as the threat of death looms over the hostages with every word or gesture they dare make. The dialogue is in both Danish and English but the Somali dialogue is never subtitled, again a technique to keep both hostage and audience in utter fear. As the weeks pass, the pirate and hostage relationship changes and the onset of perhaps ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ sets in; there is a fantastic scene where the pirates and hostages get drunk and have a sing along which, despite the happy faces, is filled with sadness and fear. Moreover, the Somali’s have a negotiator onboard, a man without a gun and who also just wants to get off the boat; his interaction with Mikkel and Peter is unlike anything you’d expect from a hostage drama.
Lindholm’s lens choice is perfect throughout. On the boat, the frame is tight, the camera is hand held, and the lighting is dark, gray and miserable, whereas in Peter’s Denmark office he frames many shots through large windows showing the landscape outside, the camera is often steadier, and there is emphasis on space and light. Furthermore, you’ll never have thought the hang-up tone of a telephone or the sound of a fax machine could be so foreboding. By the time the end credits roll, you’ll feel like it’s you who has been released, not just the men on the boat.
Stop thinking for yourself verdict: As of late May 2013, Kapringen is the best film of the year by some margin. This is film making at its highest quality and released in a period when cinemas are crammed full of mega-budget nonsense blockbusters, it is a timely reminder that truly great films are still being made.


  1. 1. Where did you see this? I'm very interested after reading your review but can't find it

    2. Sounds similar to Captain Phillips which is coming out in October.

  2. Hi Austin,

    I saw it in Oxford, UK. Only one cinema showing it near me, which is a real crime.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, much appreciated!