It seems the land of Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen has a thing or two to teach Hollywood about the crime drama.
A Hijacking, writer-director Tobias Lindholm's harrowing thriller about modern-day pirates, is ample proof.
The Danes already have redefined the TV procedural with masterpieces such as The Killing and The Bridge, both of which have been remade for the American market. Meantime, Nicolas Winding Refn has injected some serious existentialist testosterone into cinema with big-screen epics Pusher and Drive.
Refn's films deal with drugs and violence on the street level. Lindholm takes on global crime in A Hijacking, a tense, implosive story about the crew of a Danish supertanker taken hostage by Somali pirates en route to Mumbai.
The topic seems the perfect vehicle for a top-heavy blockbuster with wall-to-wall explosions, maverick heroes, and hot babes in peril.
Sorry, this isn't a Steven Seagal film.
Lindholm goes in the opposite direction to craft a masterpiece of cinema verité realism, a strangely intimate and moving portrait that takes us deep into the hijacking victims' tortured psyches.
Lindholm frames the tanker sequences through the perspective of ship's cook Mikkel (Pilou Asbæk), which means we have a limited view of the proceedings.
Mikkel is tucked up in his cabin when suddenly, out of nowhere, AK-47 gunfire erupts on deck and Arabic-speaking men begin making their way throughout the vessel. We're locked up with him, and later we're marched to the criminals' boss in his shoes.
Within hours, news of the attack reaches shipping-line CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), but nearly a week goes by before the Somali negotiator Omar (Abdihakin Asgar) makes contact with the company.
What follows is a seemingly never-ending, nerve-racking chess game lasting weeks upon weeks. Forced to live in a small cabin - and relieve themselves in a bucket in the corner - the crew deteriorates. Terror gives way to despair, claustrophobia, revulsion, and nausea.
Mikkel and his mates wonder why their boss is too cheap to pay.
As Peter's negotiator tells him, anyone agreeing to pay the ransom will be walking into a trap: If the pirates know you'll pay up quickly, they'll take the money, keep the ship and its crew, and ask for more.
It's an infernal situation: If Peter wants any chance of success, if he wants to bring Mikkel and his mates back home, he must make the process as protracted as possible - making the hostages suffer even longer.
A Hijacking is one of those perfect films that crop up every few years to prove that with true artistry, even the most exhausted genre can yield something new, rich, and strange.
A Hijacking ***1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Tobias Lindholm. With Søren Malling, Johan Philip Asbæk, Dar Salim, Amalie Ihle Alstrup. Distributed by Magnolia Films. In Danish with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 mins.
Parent's guide: R (adult themes, language, some violence, smoking)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse