A sense of déjà vu courses through the veins of Fishing Without Nets. A year after Captain Phillips and A Hijacking turned the cinematic spotlight onto Somali Piracy, Cutter Hodierne attempts to address the same issue, but from the perspective of those who be plundering. Unfortunately, everything he tries to show, we’ve seen before… and we’ve seen it done better.
Expanding on his award winning short of the same name, Hodierne focuses his story on Abdi (Abdikani Muktar), a young Somali fisherman struggling to make ends meet due to the pollution-ravaged seas. Hoping to earn enough money to help smuggle himself, his wife, and his child out of the country, Abdi agrees to assist in the highjacking of an oil tanker. However, it isn’t long before he finds himself in over his head.
From the outset, Hodierne’s intentions are quite perceptible. The quiet opening scenes follow behind Abdi as he wonders around the devastated local land. Hodierne’s camera methodically observes the raw reality of the character’s impoverished way of life, which he then underpins with Kevin Hilliard and Patrick Taylor’s effectively brooding score. Later, when Abdi boards the oil tanker, we can clearly see the desperation in his eyes, the inner realisation that he has no other option if he wants to save his family. Throughout, Muktar’s performance is emotionally complex and supremely effective. Like Barkhad Abdi last year, Muktar gives a human voice to the men who commit these acts, but does so in a meticulously restrained way that crucially doesn’t ask the audience for forgiveness.
Hordierne himself, however, seems slightly muddled about what’s he has set out to achieve. His script fails to offer anything new to what is quite a potent subject, and simply settles for trying to channel an assortment of ideas already covered by both Captain Phillips and A Hijacking. Soon enough the whole film is blown off course and Hodierne proceeds to spend the rest of the running time trying to navigate it towards a succinct conclusion
He never succeeds though. Despite Muktar’s efforts, the film never delivers in its attempts to offer a greater understanding of those who commit piracy in Somalia due to the array of archetypal shipmates, all of whom are painted with the same generic brush and lazily portrayed as heartless, bloodthirsty marauders. Though the performances are all competent, in fact Abdi Siad’s is downright menacing, the characters themselves lack any depth.
The writer/director/producer/editor has far more success building atmosphere and tension. There’s a constant urgency and intensity to Alex Disenhof’s constantly roving camera, which builds a consistently taut and vicious climate that leaves you on edge. The hijacking scene is a spectacularly constructed example, which drags you to the edge of your seat and then forces you to witness the ensuing horror.
It’s just a shame the film as a whole is unable to pack the same punch. It’s ineffectiveness is epitomised in the contrived ending, which aspires to do so much, but achieves so little… much like the film itself.