The AppleTV+ thriller series plays like a rainy day TBS movie stretched over seven episodes.
Hijack, like 24 before it, is billed as a thriller television series told in real-time. In execution, however, it feels similar to a carrier full of other TV actioners. While it may, in fact, be seven hours from Dubai to London, there’s nothing about this show that makes the real-time gimmick sing. Instead of intense immediacy, it feels like a run-of-the-mill suspense series stakes.
Soon after takeoff in Dubai, a five-person team seizes control of a commercial jet bound for London. Led by Stuart (Neil Maskell), something immediately seems off about them. They want to keep the hijacking a secret, appear to have no political agenda, and repeatedly refer to a timetable they’ve already gotten out ahead of. They don’t seem afraid to mix things up, but they don’t read as professionals or zealots either.
Also onboard is Sam Nelson (Idris Elba), a negotiator of some vaguely defined corporate stripe. He’s trying to return to his son Kai (Jude Cudjoe) and wife Kacey (Chantelle Alle). Despite how he speaks of her and the expensive piece of jewelry he’s bringing home, Sam and Kacey are estranged. So estranged, in fact, she’s been dating Detective Daniel O’Farrel (Max Beesley) for a not insignificant amount of time.
Over the course of the seven “real-time” episodes, Sam does his best to outthink and manipulate the hijackers. Despite repeated assertions that his only goal is to keep himself alive, Sam quickly reveals he’s not so self-involved. He might be playing the anti-hero for convenience, but he aims to save everyone and prevent any sort of terrorist incident.
The reality of Sam’s heroism is one of a few feints toward unusual complications that Hijack either takes back or defangs. With each one, it becomes clear. Hijack isn’t here to challenge paradigms. It’s a thriller as comfort television. Surprises will be rare. It won’t jostle your emotions too much. However, it is surely going to show you a good time.
A big part of that latter bit is, of course, Elba. He demonstrates an excellent talent for cooler-than-a-cucumber control, interrupted by brief moments of panic glances. He’s got this handled, he insists to everyone—his fellow passengers, the hijackers, the audience. Most of the time, he seems to believe it every bit as he convinces us to. However, the real thrill of his performance are the moments when he lets us in. The show hinges on the times when even he becomes too overwhelmed to pretend this kind of travel day isn’t so unusual.
[S]ettle into the couch for thrills that delight but never challenge.
Refreshingly, the show rarely asks him to play action hero. He’s Elba, of course, so he looks like he can handle himself in a fight. Time and again, though, Sam strives to win with the least physicality required. He’ll throw a bunch or tackle a guy, but he’s no superhero, and he knows it. His ability to read people and his gift for false earnestness are his real weapons. Time and again, the series makes it clear that when the situation devolves into violence, it seldom makes things better for our protagonist, the other passengers, or their loved ones on the ground.
In the end, that proves the most interesting aspect of Hijack, not the real-time gimmick. What tension there is comes not from the ticking clock but from the limits of Sam’s ability to cajole, intimidate, confuse, and calm his opponents into unwittingly giving him what he needs to win. Think of it as entertainment built for a dreary Fall or blazing hot Summer day binge. Stay inside, let science control your climate, and settle into the couch for thrills that delight but never challenge.
Hijack has its boarding pass ready for its June 28 flight on AppleTV+.