Film Review | Animated Documentary Last Hijack is both Unusual and Thought Provoking

Last Hijack opens on Mohammed, a khat chewing Somalian pirate, staring out to sea and fashioning a hook from old metal as his voice-over tells us about his life on the sea. He reaches a truck, throws the hook into the air and suddenly we launch into an animated sequence where he is pulled upwards into the sky, transforming into an eagle to prey on vulnerable shipping vessels. It’s an unusual documentary.

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Last Hijack is screening at the IFI this week.

Observing what feels like a Hollywood plot about one last job from the point of view of a hijacker gives a sense of freshness. There’s something inherently interesting about watching a rusty AK wielding crew being put together and discussing what they’ll do to stay awake on the water. The ‘plot’ and shooting style is such that it’s actually unclear at times whether we’re watching a documentary or a story told with the trappings of doc style.

Aesthetically this does mean it can fall into the trap of not looking like a straight doc but rather a rough and ready looking fictional story, even if it isn’t. As mentioned the animated sequences are the movie’s most stand out unique feature. They allow the film-makers, Femke Wolting and Tommy Palotta, to dramatise events that they could never be present for. In the last hijack piracy is presented as literally a dream, alongside Mohammed’s memories of his youth. These scenes are conceptually memorable. They have a trippy quality but aesthetically they too often look like stiff 3D models with a painterly filter overlaid. The evocative images struggle against presumable budget limitations and just about manage to come out on top.

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Pirates featured in Last Hijack. Source

The most memorable thing here isn’t the sequences that are heavily played up in the promotional material. The real world of the film is incredibly heartbreaking and strange to Western eyes. We’re treated to a scene revisiting the ruins of a childhood home, background to the world of piracy and a wedding that is literally old men swapping a bundle full of cash for a young woman.

At the doc’s heart is Mohammed himself. He is part victim of circumstance, part scumbag and seems thankfully unjudged by the filmmakers. Given the subject matter he could have been painted in a simplistic light either way. That temptation has been avoided as we watch him battle his own temptation to return to a life of piracy even as he has promised his family that he won’t. He’s an empathetic, thuggish guy trying to make quick money in a desperately poor country. His children from many women, if they see him at all, are frightened of him. He is more memorable than any of the griffins, floods and CGI dreamscapes on offer.
Last Hijack is being screened at the IFI along with a Q&A with co-director Tommy Pallotta on January 7th. For more details click here and check out the trailer below.
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Featured image credit: NYFF