The Apple TV+ limited series is similar to almost everything that has been made previously under this subgenre, but it is also quite different in a manner that it is quite cognizant of its own nature.
Master corporate negotiator Sam Nelson (Idris Elba) is faced with arguably the toughest and most unconventional challenge of his life: the rescuing of 200-odd passengers on board an aircraft that has been hijacked mid-air. Nelson is no John McClane nor do the circumstances allow him to smooth-talk the hijackers out of their mission, and it doesn't help either that almost no one on the ground has any idea of this grave situation. And yet, over the course of seven hours, he must employ his skills and broker an end, while the authorities on the ground scamper for answers.
A kind of inexplicable upwelling of emotions occurs in the finale of Hijack, the new Apple TV+ limited thriller series starring Idris Elba. A lot was at stake as we arrived at this episode, a lot many loose ends that needed tying up and also a whole lot of explanations that one sought from the last act of this saga. Sam Nelson is in the belly of the drama, and so are 200-odd passengers and a small bunch of hijackers who are being puppeteered by a few not-so-good men. Everything happens in real-time and the plane, in all likelihood, is heading to its doom.
Who are these hijackers? What motives do the men orchestrating this coup do they carry? Will Sam Nelson's long-play work? And, of course, can he save the plane from an impending tragedy?
At its core, the plot is pretty straightforward. The Kingdom Airlines flight, KA29, flying from Dubai to London is ambushed by a team of 5 hijackers who, surprisingly, do not put forth any demands. They gain control of the cockpit, use the chief pilot to keep up appearances and for a good hour or so, ensure that the concerned authorities on the ground have no idea that the plane is hijacked. But, of course, it can't be all as rosy as planned and sooner than later, we find out that Alice Sinclair, a very shrewd air traffic controller, (an excellent Eve Myles) at London's Heathrow Airport, spots something fishy about the two "false alarms" that were raised along the way. Acting on a hunch, Sinclair takes the matter to the Counter Terrorism Squad to kick off a race-against-time solving hanging by a very thin thread - the British Home and Foreign Secretaries get involved and the demands are finally laid out by the hijackers, while Sam Nelson employs his wits to navigate the situation in his own way.
The heart of Hijack lies in this fragile communication line existing between the aircraft and the ground. And this is where, in my opinion, the writers shine the brightest. Subverting our expectations and very carefully removing conventions from the way, they create a narrative that sticks to a pace of its own and throws up a pleasant surprise at every beat. I like how Nelson and the chief pilot use an in-flight computer game to establish communication. I like how Sinclair and her team of unassuming air traffic controllers use common sense to establish that something's wrong up in the air. I like how there is no saviour complex bestowed on the main protagonist or the fact that the hijackers are constantly found dealing with their moral dilemmas throughout.
The series is similar to almost everything that has been made previously under this self-explanatory subgenre, but it is also quite different in a manner that it is quite cognizant of its nature. It wants to take its own time because it wants us, the viewer, to feel the frenzy and the simmering chaos as though it is happening first-hand. It wants those seven hours to be labouriously spread out because it wants to up the ante, as it were, in stages instead of offering us a highlight reel. It wants us to see that in an utterly plausible situation of a hijack, a man like Sam Nelson is far from the hero that we expect him to be but rather a simple bystander who does what he can do best.
Hijack is a taut thriller, no doubt, but its rhythm is so apt that you find the time and the breathing space to worry about almost everything that's part of its storyline. Sure, there are a few occasions that do make you feel that it's a little too stuffy, but luckily none of it causes much harm.
Idris Elba is in superb form and his version of a negotiator is neither too slick nor is it unbelievably pre-emptive. Elba's Sam Nelson is self-motivated and mostly devoid of hope or optimism, but he is efficient through empathy. The British actor essays the role with a kind of feverish yet controlled energy and skillfully retains that throughout the narrative, making each move of his, each stare of his and even each wince of his matter a great deal. He is ably supported by the rest of the cast that includes Neil Maskell as the lead hijacker, Max Beesley as the metropolitan officer who is also Nelson's ex-wife Marsha's, boyfriend, Archie Panjabi as the SO15 member, Simon McBurney as a mastermind criminal and an additional battalion of excellent actors playing various different roles.