I am not a horror film aficionado. And you don’t expect to see matinee idol Brad Pitt in a horror film with a bunch of zombies running around trying to kill everybody. But that’s what you have here. Actually, it’s not really a horror film. It’s more horror-lite. Oh there are zombies, all right. But, frankly, they aren’t that scary.
What this really is, is an action film. Based on Max Brooks’ novel, what it’s got going for it is director Marc Foster. Foster directed the only good performance I’ve ever seen out of Will Ferrell, in 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction, about which I said, “Advertised as a comedy, there are some funny lines. But as the movie progresses it’s got far too much depth to be viewed as a frivolous comedy.” If Foster can entice a good performance out of Ferrell, he’s got to be good. He also directed 2008’s Quantum of Solace, one of the few actually good James Bond films without Sean Connery.
There are four writers who received credit, in addition to Brooks. That generally indicates problems with the script, but I thought it held up pretty well, considering what it is.
After some annoying slice-of-life scenes establishing Gary and Karin Lane (Pitt and Mireille Enos, respectively) as a relatively normal Philadelphia family (Glasgow, Scotland was the location shot as Philadelphia, and Malta was used for Jerusalem), they hop in their car and almost immediately all hell breaks loose, setting forth one of the tensest first 60 minutes of film I’ve seen in a long time. I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t relax. While it does strain credulity, it is extremely well done.
While the budget for this film is estimated at $170 million, most of it must have been spent on the extraordinary special effects and star Brad Pitt, because other than Pitt, there’s really not anybody extraordinarily well-known if you’re not a TV fan. That’s not to say, however, that the cast is not uniformly excellent. Marco Beltrami provides wonderful tension-enhancing music and the visual effects by Scott Farrar are exceptional.
I go into films trying to know as little as possible about the story and plot. That’s what I did here and it was a rewarding film experience. In fact, I’ve already told you more than I should have. So that’s all I’m going to say about this film.
While this film about a cargo ship, the MV Rosen, that is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, it is really about the crew, zeroing in on Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), the cook and Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), who is the CEO of the company that owns the ship. Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, this emphasizes the length of time involved in the negotiation that necessarily results from such a hijacking.
Although you might expect a lot of action in a film about a hijacking, there is very little action in this movie. Mostly it is about the drag of time and the pressure that’s put on Mikkel and Peter.
While Mikkel and Peter are the two main characters, there is a third, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) who is the “negotiator” for the hijackers.
Lindholm bounces his story back between the ship and the corporate offices as the negotiations drag on for days, weeks, and months. Asbæk and Ludvigsen both give fine performances as the pressure on them mounts.
One technical problem that would’ve made it more realistic is that the physical appearance of the crew and the hijackers does not change over a period of several months. One of the crew, Jan (Roland Møller), has a Hollywood Hulk-esque three-day growth of beard when the ship is hijacked. This does not change throughout the movie. In reality, of course, their beards would grow and be shaggy and misshapen as time passed. Similarly, Mikkel’s well-trimmed beard doesn’t change throughout the ordeal. This touch of reality would have added to the ambience of time passing that Lindholm was trying to create.
Lindholm based his story on the hijackings of two ships, the Danica White and CEC Future, in 2007 and 2008. This is an interesting take on the hijacking of a ship in that it’s not an action/adventure film like, for instance, 1992’s Under Siege, which is probably the best of the hijacking genre. This is a lot more realistic. Because of that it’s not nearly as cinematic, but it is interesting and educational. I came out of it feeling fulfilled. Because it is so realistic I had a much better appreciation for what actually goes on when a ship is hijacked, and these hijackings occur much more often than most of us know. In Danish and English.