Fishing Without Nets: Sundance Review

Fishing Without Nets Sundance Film Still - H 2014

Fishing Without Nets Sundance Film Still - H 2014

Novel setting showcases a familiar desperate-man crime theme.

Cutter Hodierne's debut, expanding a short of the same name, tells a hijacking story from the Somali pirates' point of view.

A hijacking tale told from the perspective of the impoverished Somalis who, some more enthusiastically than others, ambush an oil tanker and hold its crew for ransom, Cutter Hodierne's Fishing Without Nets is a tense drama with well-drawn characters and only as much action as its story requires. Its thunder has been stolen to some extent by Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, which, though clearly on the side of the Western crew, displayed Greengrass' usual sense of moral complexity and (with the help of actor Barkhad Abdi) gave ample weight to their captors' desperation. Still, festival and art house auds should respond to this film, with a lead, Abdikani Muktar, who makes a strong (if conventional) access point for viewer identification.

Muktar plays Abdi, a loving husband and father whose lifelong work as a fisherman is running aground. Unable to catch enough fish to support them, he's forced to pay smugglers to take his wife and son to Yemen; he doesn't have enough money to join them, but hopes to follow as soon as he can. He wants nothing to do with pirates; "they kill people," he says to a friend, China Boy (Abdiwali Farrah), who has decided to seek his fortune with them.

But soon he has been convinced. With fear and guilt in his eyes, he guides a gang of more ruthless men out into the shipping channel, where they capture an oil tanker that proves not to have any cargo. Once the grunt-work team has brought the ship to anchor off Somalia's coast (shooting was actually in nearby East Africa and castmembers are Kenyans of Somali descent), a more sophisticated man comes to join them: "Mr. Chairman" (Abu Bakr Mirre) knows the industry and has the experience to negotiate with the ship's owners over the return of the crew. While they're waiting for an agreement, the men split up the hostages, presumably so any rescue attempt would fail to get them all; Abdi is part of the team going ashore to keep French prisoner Viktor (Reda Kateb) in a makeshift jail-shack.

There, Abdi's kindness toward Viktor irritates others who are impatient for their payday; paranoia and resentment lead men who understand nothing about how to ransom a hostage to attempt a mutiny against their more level-headed leaders.

While the setup and the moral dilemmas are all familiar from crime stories told in other settings, Hodierne does a fine job balancing the elements. The movie never reaches the sweating-bullets heights of its Hollywood cousin, but it's distinct enough from that film to keep us watching. An everything-going-wrong climax is sad and credible; while it unexpectedly veers toward what appears to be an enormous cop-out, the final shot is ambiguous enough to satisfy audience members with opposing points of view.

Production: VICE, Think Media
Cast: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abdiwali Farrah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb, Idil Ibrahim
Director: Cutter Hodierne

Screenwriters: Cutter Hodierne, John Hibey, David Burkman
Producers: Raphael Swann, John Hibey, Cutter Hodierne, Brian Glazen, Ben Freedman, Stephanie Pinola, Victor Shapiro
Executive producers: Eddy Moretti, Shane Smith, Rupert Wyatt, Joe Laconte

Director of photography: Alex Disenhof
Production designer: Naia Barrenechea

Editors: Dominic LaPerriere, Cutter Hodierne
Music: Patrick Taylor, Kevin Hilliard
Sales: WME
No rating, 109 minutes