Idris Elba brings gravitas to an otherwise ridiculously melodramatic thriller series.
Plot: Told in real time, “Hijack” is a tense thriller that follows the journey of a hijacked plane as it makes its way to London over a seven hour flight, and authorities on the ground scramble for answers.
Review: Idris Elba has proven himself to be a multi-hyphenate powerhouse who can provide voice-over for animated fare, play a superhero, perform action in genres ranging from science fiction to fantasy, and even get some laughs in comedies. Elba is even an experienced DJ. The gun can do no wrong, and while his filmography is jammed with diverse projects, the instant I started watching Hijack, I knew the creative team brought him on board because of his voice. Idris Elba has a presence that few actors are capable of, and that gravitas helps rescue Hijack from being a bust. Told in a real-time approach, Hijack is a tense thriller about a plane taken over by terrorists that barely makes sense.
Before I get into the details of Hijack, let’s address the claim that this story is told in “real-time”. As a fan of the Kiefer Sutherland series 24 and the Johnny Depp flick Nick of Time, I have seen real-time stories told before. The ticking clock element drives the plot of stories differently than if you provide an inconsistent countdown. Hijack follows a plane traveling from Dubai to London which is a seven-hour trip. The series last for seven episodes, each roughly an hour long. Technically speaking, the series last the length of that plane route, but that is where the real-time element ends. If you have ever taken an airplane, you know that long flights are brutal, so packing in a hijacking, armed terrorists, rebellious passengers, and all of the other stuff endured in a scenario like this, it still would be tough to keep it action-packed for four hundred minutes. Hijack pads that time with misdirects, cliffhanger reveals, and other red herrings to keep the audience engaged, and they have varying degrees of success. Ultimately, a ploy cannot save Hijack because the story is pretty weak.
Idris Elba plays Sam Nelson, a veteran negotiator brought in to help broker power deals between the mega-wealthy. He is aboard the flight as he heads home to see his ex-wife and son. As the plane takes off, Sam observes concerning details just as a quintet of passengers takes over the plane. Before the hijackers even move, the first half of the premiere is consumed with boarding the plane, passengers struggling to stow their carry-on bags, rude seatmates quibbling, and all the other stuff we face on a typical flight. Needless to say, it does not make for exciting viewing. Once the takeover begins, we are faced with those who think they should fight back, others who are racially profiling the criminals, and others cowering in fear. Sam remains the lone voice of calm as he makes a move. It is a rather unexpected twist and the first of many that fail to pan out over the seven-episode series.
As the series progresses, the narrative splits between Sam aboard the plane and various locations on the ground. Alice Sinclair (Eve Myles), the air traffic controller responsible for the flight, tries to contact the plane and help diffuse the situation. Various politicians, including Zahra Gahfoor (Archie Panjabi), try to decide if the right decision is to shoot down the jet or let it land, a choice they quibble over for most of the series. There is also Daniel Farrell (Max Beesley), the detective involved with Sam’s ex-wife Marsha (Christine Adams). Farrell trusts Sam and is doing his own investigation on the ground. There are also the criminals themselves who have concocted this master plan with a means to an end that becomes apparent only in the series’ final episodes. It is the various subplots that the series must follow that shorten the more engaging storylines, resulting in some characters we are meant to care about that virtually disappear by the ending. As I watched the entire series, I wondered why certain scenes existed as they do nothing for the finished product.
Created by George Kay (Litvinenko, The Hour), Hijack boasts solid production values and good special effects. Even decades later, watching a story about a plane being hijacked without flashing back to September 11th is still tough. Still, the evolution of air travel in the intervening years plays a factor in the story. Director Jim Field Smith keeps the tension high as much as he can, but virtually everything not set on the airplane is weak and underdeveloped. Aboard the jet, the focus is squarely on Idris Elba. Elba evokes such passion in his performances that I was not disappointed he could headline this series without being relegated to much physical activity. Using his recognizable voice and his charisma, Elba allows Sam to be a believable protagonist without relying on martial arts or other particular sets of skills.
The trailer for Hijack feels incredibly misleading after having watched the full series. But I enjoyed everything with Idris Elba so far, and his performance rescues this series from otherwise being a total bust. So many plot elements go nowhere, characters are introduced for no reason, and a real-time conceit adds nothing to the overall story, tone, or pace. Hijack is a series that audiences will stick with to see what happens before being underwhelmed and disappointed. I finished the final episode with a feeling of “That’s it?” and no good series ever ends that way. If you are looking for tension and intricate storytelling, you may want to avoid this one.
Hijack premieres on June 28th on AppleTV+.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/hijack-tv-review/