These days, a hijacking movie is about as common as an American politician invoking 9/11. Recently, we have seen Oscar nominated Captain Phillips, the brand new Non-Stop, the aptly titled Danish film The Hijacking, et cetera; each take on a new approach to frighten us with the notion of modern-day pirates. But are these tales of piracy or of terrorism? Default explores this dichotomy by exposing media sensationalism.
A news crew is on its way home from the Seychelles when their still-grounded plane is taken over by a group of armed men. This is not a coincidence; the leader of the criminal group, who calls himself Atlas, sought them out in order to air his grievances about a piece they ran a few months back on a young man on trial for piracy. He sets up a mock interview and begins a debate that neither the hostages nor the aggressors can come to a consensus on: what makes a terrorist different from a pirate?
The media has twisted the definition of terrorist to refer to atrocities that originate in the Middle East, fueled by religious motives. Pirates, on the other hand, operate almost exclusively off the coast of the horn of Africa, in violent attempts to collect money. Why has the media characterized them this way? Terrorism, after all, by definition, is the use of force or intimidation to achieve a goal. The goals of a terrorist and a pirate are admittedly different. Middle Eastern terrorists are religious extremists and Somalian pirates want money; however, Atlas argues that the goals are not what should dictate our perception of these criminals, but instead it should be fear.
This film’s strong story and message carry it to the very end. It was shot from a first person perspective, but we see both the point of view of the hostages and the captors. Inter-cut between scenes of panic inside the plane is footage from their network, closely watching the situation unfold from the outside. This provides us a third point of view, where another reporter from their network happens to be located. With its strong message about media sensationalism, the characterization of the network itself leaves a little to be desired. Brand could have satirized the broadcast which would have driven the theme home, but he instead uses it simply to propel the story. This does not in any way take away from the film though; the writing is able to accomplish its purpose without the use of any other elements.
Defaultis an intense thriller, not recommended for the faint of heart. Even amid the moral lessons it preaches, this movie still makes your spine tingle and your heart pound. No other hijacking thriller out there can compare to this work, and makes it a must-see at this year’s Miami International Film Festival. -Zoë Brown