Sundance Film Review: ‘Fishing Without Nets’

Variety

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Those who thought the pirates’ p.o.v. was neglected in “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking” may find the insights they were hoping for in “Fishing Without Nets.” This accomplished feature debut for director/co-scenarist Cutter Hodierne (expanding his 2012 Sundance grand jury prize-winning short of the same name) follows an oil tanker’s hijacking and its aftermath through the primary viewpoint of a young Somali who’s reluctantly taken part. Very well crafted, empathetic drama should ride the coattails of its similarly themed predecessors to solid sales and decent niche biz in numerous territories.

Upstanding, pious Abdi (Abdikani Muktar) comes from generations of fishermen. But now the nearby waters are polluted, and fish are scarce; years of war and famine have done the rest. Desperate to provide a better life for his beloved wife and son, he has them smuggled out of the country, but there’s no money left for him to follow. Ergo, he eventually becomes susceptible to an acquaintance’s siren song of untold riches if he joins a hijacking party. (He’s solicited because while fishing, he’s grown familiar with the nearest shipping lanes for international vessels.) Despite his strong distaste for the idea of signing on with killers and thieves — what would his late father have thought? — he caves at last.

The heavily armed pirates soon come across a rusty old commercial tanker that’s worth nothing much itself, and currently bears no cargo. So its only “valuables” are the crew, who are taken hostage while the lead hijackers negotiate long-distance with their European employers. Not wanting to keep all the presumably highest-price-tagged white captives in one place, the captain (Eric Godon) is left on ship while younger Victor (Reda Kateb) is dragged to a shanty village, where Abdi becomes his minder — and the only person who seems to think of the Frenchman as a fellow human being. But as things drag on and no ransom delivery seems to be on the immediate horizon, their frail friendship is imperiled and worse by hotheaded, often hopped-up Blackie (Abdi Siad), who’d as soon kill both as have his patience tried further.

It’s a tale that only gets bleaker; even Abdi’s loved ones seem to be in danger, since when he sneaks a call to them on a stolen satellite phone, he’s instead extorted for more money via vague threats to their welfare. There’s no attempt to follow the negotiation process, which dominated “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking,” but here is kept offscreen. Instead the focus is strictly on the tense ground-level situation, exacerbated by language barriers and most of the pirates’ unhelpful naivete about how things can and should go.

Muktar (who also starred in the short) and Kateb (“A Prophet,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) make vividly sympathetic impressions without much dialogue, while Siad is properly alarming as one very loose cannon. All tech and design aspects here are first-rate, notably Patrick Taylor and Kevin Hilliard’s ominous score (despite an occasional excess of percussive bombast), and cinematography by Alex Disenhof (“The We and I”) that makes excellent use of the widescreen format, both on land (the pic was shot in Kenya) and at sea.

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