The Way, Way Back (dirs. Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, 2013)

Seen today, at Vue.

Family dynamics are fraught – even in the most seemingly normal ones. A clever, subtly nuanced tale of adolescent and adult angst, The Way, Way Back is one of my films of the year.

14 year old Duncan (Liam James) is set for a miserable summer – spending it in New England with his mother (Toni Collette) and her domineering, controlling boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell, on sparkling form.) Adding additional problems to the mix are the drunken next door neighbour, Betty (Alison Janney), and outgoing couple Kip and Joan. Surrounded by adults who quickly regress into adolescence – partying, drinking, and pot smoking – Dunncan finds solace at the local water park, and befriends Owen (Sam Rockwell, in possibly his best performance since Choke.) As Duncan grows in confidence at the park, his family life starts to slowly unravel, as the truths about the emotionally manipulative Trent start to surface. And whilst there are some scenes that made me laugh out loud, these are counter balanced by some very uncomfortable moments – the family board game, for example, is a revealing and troubling scene. The film also flips several standard tropes in this genre – the non-starting of romance, and the ending is more truthful, than happy. The film can be seen as message heavy – there’s no such thing as a happy ending, families are difficult, and you have to look out for yourself- but its beautifully acted, cleverly scripted, and gorgeously shot. A triumph.

A Hijacking (Kapringen, dir. Tobias Lindholm 2013)

Watched yesterday, on a DVD library rental.

The last film I saw about a hijacking of a ship, it featured Steven Seagal as a cook, who manfully defended said crew with the aid of martial arts skills and kitchen knives. However, this Danish thriller is a very different beast – one that shows the psychological warfare between the captors and those who can liberate – the company who owns the ship. Shot in the claustrophobic confines of the ship and the sterile offices of the owners, A Hijacking is a dark and gritty film.

The key protagonist is Mikkal, the mild mannered cook and recently married family man, whose devotion to his wife is made clear in the first ten minutes. The men are cheerful, having nearly completed their mission. Suddenly, the ship is hijacked by Somali pirates, and a gruelling nightmare of capture begins. Increasingly stripped of human dignity, the men are forced to do what would seem unthinkable – work with and almost befriend the pirates. One of the most moving, and yet also most believable scenes, is that of the starving men fishing together, eating the fish, and then singing loudly and drunkenly. Its a clear sign to the audience that you don’t know how you will react to this situation until it happen to you.

But, this isn’t the real focus. Lindholm’s key drama is that unfolding between the mild mannered, assured CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (an excellent Soren Malling), who is continually told to be calm by his hired negotiators. But, Malling doe an excellent job of portraying a man being pushed to his very limit – the pirates want money, but will they let the crew live? As the tension rises, his reactions become more palpable – angst, aggression, fear. As the scenes are spliced between the boat and the office, it is indicated that whilst the CEO may have the power to end the situation, he is also as much a captive as his men. Malling is excellent, neither resorting to melodrama or heroics.

But the real star is Johan Philip Asbaek as Mikkal. At first, he is valuable, as he is the cook. But as he begins to realise how cheaply life is regarded, he retreats to paranoia, fear, and eventually, withdrawal. A brutal and terrifying look at ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, A Hijacking is a film that needs to be seen.