Filmmaker Cutter Hodierne was awarded the Directing Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival for Fishing Without Nets. Though Hodierne is a first-time feature filmmaker, it was actually his second award-winning trip to Sundance – in 2012, a short version of Fishing Without Nets was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking. The earlier short is worth noting because the feature length version of Fishing Without Nets, which is about Somali pirates, inevitably draws comparisons to last year’s major studio release Captain Phillips, directed by Paul Greengrass. While Hodierne isn’t quite as successful, his film embarks on a story that is more difficult to tell because it is from the perspective of the hijackers rather than those who are hijacked.
Fishing Without Nets is a story about what a desperate man will do to provide a better life for his family. The man in this case is Abdi (Abdikani Muktar Manur), a poor young Somali fisherman whose only way to improve the lives of his wife and son is to go on a raid with pirates who capture ships and hold he crew for ransom. Though Abdi is hesitant, his friend China Boy (Abdiwali Farrah) knows that Abdi knows how to sail the fishing lanes because he is a fisherman, and he pressures Abdi to come with him on a raid. After telling himself “A man is not a man until he can feed his children. Only death can stop me from feeding mine,” Abdi decides to join up with the pirates after using all his money to send his wife and child out of the country, where he hopes to join them once he receives his payment for the raid.
The older pirate leaders remark about how impressionable and easy to manipulate the young recruits are, and Hodierne reveals this by showing the young pirates taking photos of themselves as they pose with the rifles before the raid. It establishes that these pirates seem to think that they’re engaging in a game and not an act of terrorism. Ironically for a fisherman, Abdi admits how fearful he is of drowning. However, it’s clear that he is not just talking about the ocean, but also of drowning in a life of lawlessness.
The ship raiding scenes are similar to those in Captain Phillips, except that these pirates are more successful at taking over the ship. The presentation is also wildly different – there is less disorientating camerawork and the score is far more subdued (in fact, there are few music cues in the entire film). Because of that, it is sometimes hard to forget that you’re not watching a documentary.
After the ship is captured, Abdi’s group is put in charge of a French hostage named Victor (Reda Kateb). Though Abdi and Victor don’t speak the same language, they began to understand each other and Abdi feels growing sympathy for his captive. When the ransom doesn’t come as quickly as they hope, the pirates become increasingly desperate. The situation soon spirals out of control, and Abdi discovers even his wife and son are not safe, especially when other pirates become suspicious of Abdi’s friendliness with their French prisoner.
However, it’s worth noting that although this film attempts to humanize Somali pirates by portraying ship raids from their perspective, Abdi is the only pirate in the film who is depicted sympathetically. While all of the other young pirates are portrayed as being desperate for money and little more than muscle for their older bosses, they are still only in on the raid for the money. As a result, the film doesn’t so much humanize the Somali pirates as a whole but humanizes Abdi as an exception to the other money-hungry, khat-chewing, gun-toting pirates. It’s almost a throwback to the old American Westerns in which all of Native Americans were portrayed as bloodthirsty savages save for one “noble savage” whom was meant to transcend the stereotype. Unfortunately, not much can be dispelled when one noble figure is depicted among a group made up of stereotypes. For example, the scenes between Abdi and Victor reveal how compassionate Abdi is, but the other pirates have no room for that.
Because of that and the film’s borderline deus ex machina ending (or is it? It’s hard to tell considering the final shot) that also manages to leave several narrative thread dangling, Fishing Without Nets is not quite the tour de force that its Sundance awards suggest. It still offers an engaging story about a desperate man and is a tightly-directed film – particularly for a first-time filmmaker – yet I have no doubt that Hodierne will transcend these rookie narrative mistakes in his next film.
Film Review Rating 3 out of 5 : See it … It’s Good
Fishing Without Nets opens in Los Angeles on September 26, New York City on October 3, and VOD on October 21.
FISHING WITHOUT NETS
WINNER OF THE 2014 SUNDANCE US DRAMATIC DIRECTING AWARD
Opening in LA September 26, 2014
Opening in NY October 3, 2014
Available nationwide on Digital HD & VOD October 28, 2014
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