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Sorting Out 'The Attack' and 'A Hijacking'

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by Jordan Hoffman
June 19, 2013 10:11 AM
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"A Hijacking."
"A Hijacking."
Criticwire is here to help.

There's a chance, however small, that you live in a "select city" and want to catch that foreign language movie with the somewhat blank, declarative title about an act of violence's devastating psychological effects. Oh, you forget the name exactly, but it's been getting decent buzz since last year's fall festivals.

Under normal circumstances, this would be more than enough information to slap into Google to get the proper screening times. Not this weekend.

Neither Magnolia Pictures' "A Hijacking" nor Cohen Media Group's "The Attack" blinked when they saw that the other film also picked June 21st as their weekend. The two movies have been giving one another Sergio Leone stares since they both played at Toronto ("The Attack" had its world premiere a few days earlier at Telluride, and "A Hijacking" did the same at Venice.) This could make for mutually assured destruction at the arthouse -- and it's a shame, because both movies are really quite good, and not quite as similar as the names suggest.

So I'm here to stand between these two warring parties and help you find the partisans that are right for you. Ready? Here we go:

Which one is which?

"A Hijacking" is a disturbing, realism-heavy portrayal of a Danish industrial ship captured by Somali pirates. It's claustrophobic and unpredictable and switches between action on the boat and negotiations back the the Danish head offices. "The Attack" is the story of a successful Israeli Arab surgeon whose wife is accused of being a suicide bomber. The film details his ensuing investigation, forcing him to question his own beliefs about virtually everything in his life.

Which one is supposed to be better?

Well, on Rotten Tomatoes both films have a 100%. On the Criticwire Network both films have a B+. On Metacritic "The Attack" has an 82 and "A Hijacking" has a 78.

Wow, that's sounds pretty dead even. Okay, beyond the numbers, what are some critics saying? Let's start with "A Hijacking."

Guy Lodge at Variety says it "eschews sensationalism at every turn of its spare but tightly wound narrative." Nick Schager at Slant says "Writer/director Tobias Lindholm's long takes and handheld cinematography provide a docudrama sheen that never feels intrusive, and his plotting has a taut and methodical inner logic in which every development has a clear cause-effect relationship to that which has come before." And Oliver Lyttleton at The Playlist says "Meticulously researched, and adhering to absolute realism with hand-held camerawork, use of non-pro actors like [Gary Skjoldmose] Porter, and canny cross-cutting -- more similar to Greengrass' 'United 93' than anything else -- means the film lands closer to a docudrama than a thriller."

Holy crap. Clearly I gotta see this movie. I'm sure it would be getting more attention if there wasn't another arthouse movie with such a similar title coming out the same weekend. Okay, so what are critics saying about "The Attack?"

Stephen Farber of The Hollywood Reporter says "Although the subject matter is inherently disturbing, it's hard to imagine any audience remaining unmoved by this mournful tale." Roger Moore at Movie Nation say "[Director Zaid] Doueiri has brilliantly and simply put a compassionate human face on a part of the world where ethnicity still trumps education, class and achievement." And Jordan Hoffman at Badass Digest says "The movie is pretty clear in its condemnation of terrorism, but many may get worked-up because it treats some of those in support of 'asymmetric warfare' as something other than tasmanian devils of pure evil."

You're quoting your own review in this piece? Just how egotistical are you?

Well, I thought it was relevant to the conversa-

Och -- that's really a low-class move, you know that?

I'm sorry, I... hey, listen, let's get back to the movies here.

Well, they both sound interesting, but I probably won't get a chance to see both in theaters. Are either on VOD?

No.

Not even "A Hijacking?" Doesn't Magnolia put all their stuff on VOD?

What do you want from me? I said no.

Okay, well, just how similar are these movies?

They are similar in that they take events "ripped from the headlines" and really dig deep on the psychological repercussions. "A Hijacking" is a little less specific. It works on a more allegorical level about the human condition. You don't need to know anything about that movie except how to spot good and evil and then to stare in horror at the gray zone between them. "The Attack" dives head-on into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and while you need not be Christiane Amanpour to "get" it, it is a film that does want to make a statements about a very real and particular issue.

Do you like one better?

Oh, so now who's coming to me looking for opinions?!? I think they're both very good. I want smart foreign language films to reach as wide an audience as possible. If you have genuine interest, try and see them both. And next time something like this happens, maybe the distributors won't pick the same weekend.

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