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.

Side Effects (dir. Stephen Soderberg, 2013)

After having spent a day packing my life into cardboard boxes – I’m moving house – I needed to relax. Although this,  one of Soderberg’s most recent and last films, is not exactly relaxing. The fact he is leaving film making to focus on TV is a real blow – Side Effects shows a director who isn’t afraid to take risks, and challenge his audience.

First point: this is a disturbing film. Its disturbing in its portrayal of psychiatrity and mental illness, and also in its swipe at the pharma industry.

Second point: its very, very good.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a troubled young woman. About to welcome her husband home after four years of jail, she is desperate for help to ease her depression, which she eloquently describes as a “poisonous fog” enveloping her every afternoon. After a failed suicide attempt, she meets the suave psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), and begins treatment. But her newly returned husband (Channing Tatum) is noticing some disturbing side effects of the new wonder drug. And then it all swings on a shocking twist…

Part psychological thriller, part noir, Side Effects doesn’t let up. It goes for the jugular and sharpens the blade. The crisp, clean cinematography only heightens the sense of surrealism – the idea that this is a reality that is somehow warped – which trust me, is how I felt when I was suffering from depression. The performances are excellent – Mara is exquisite as the fragile Emily, whilst Tatum turns in a sweet performance as the caring but increasingly bewildered husband. But the stand out performance is from Law, as a man who realises that things are not as they seem, but the clues are there if he looks hard enough. A sharp take on an very modern problem, Side Effects is a film that needs to be watched. It makes you question how acceptable it is to seek treatment for mental illness –  and you may never want to go to a pharmacy again.