Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Somali with English subtitles)
Directed by: Cutter Hodierne
Written by: Cutter Hodierne, John Hibey & David Burkman
Starring: Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb & Idil Ibrahim
It’s kind of strange that this is the third film about Somali pirates in the last two years. A HIJACKING (a Danish thriller) and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (which was recently nominated for both Golden Globes and Oscars) both took the films into thriller territory, but this one opts for a somewhat different approach. Rather than being constructed out of a seemingly recent craze about this subject matter, FISHING WITHOUT NETS is actually a feature version of a short that premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. That 15-minute piece showcased the set-up for this film and concluded right before any real mayhem went down. Those 15-minutes are the same basic set-up as the first 30 minutes of this film, which are packed with more character development, and the rest is something entirely constructed by the screenwriters after the fact.
Abdi is a young Somalian fisherman finding meaning in life through the love of his wife and child. The part of the ocean he’s been fishing in for profit has suddenly died and his nets are coming up empty. Abdi is also paying to have his wife and boy smuggled out of the country, but he doesn’t have enough funds for his own escape. Reluctantly, Abdi turns to a last resort of guiding a gang of pirates to the shipping routes. This results in a French cargo ship being hijacked, but the problem is that it’s transporting nothing. The hostages have now become the most valuable things on board. As the negotiations stretch on for longer than expected, some of the pirates become agitated and violent. Abdi is put in an increasingly difficult life-changing situation.
With A HIJACKING and CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, we witnessed a lot of the details of the actual negotiations between the government and pirates in both films that inspired by real events. One thing that’s particularly admirable about FISHING WITHOUT NETS is that the negotiations are delivered through a messenger and the film focuses on the pirates themselves, mainly Abdi. With this premise, it seems like the film would be narrowly follow our protagonist, but there was a good stretch of running time where he seemed to be placed in the background. We got to see the other pirates growing more agitated, but it felt like this went on for a while too long. When we returned to Abdi’s moral struggles head on, it felt like kind of like “oh yeah, this guy’s in the movie too.” That’s one of the key problems I have with FISHING WITHOUT NETS. The story keeps jumping frantically from person to person and only when it’s convenient for moving the plot forward. When one character is prominent for the first 30 minutes of the film and doesn’t get another line of dialogue until the last 20, it feels sloppy. In this sense, the storytelling is unfocused in the middle portion of the film. Luckily, the intense final third is good enough to send things out on a higher note.
The last 30 minutes is where things pick up drastically, but it still feels like some opportunities were lost. One ballsy shocking moment in particular had my jaw hit the floor, but overall some of the plot just feels familiar. The final shot leaves a lot to be desired and if 20 more minutes had been added to wrap things up better (some plot threads are just left unfinished), then I probably would have enjoyed this movie a lot more.
With all my ragging on the problems I had with FISHING WITHOUT NETS, one might get the impression that I didn’t like the film. That’s not true, because there are moments of utter greatness throughout (the hijacking of the ship is very well-done). One of the actors (playing the most sinister pirate amongst the group) does such a good job at being despicably evil that I felt the urge to leap through the screen and strangle him. That’s the sign of a great performance. While another performer (the list of credits on this film are a bit confusing, so I apologize for not giving specific names) actually makes a likable pirate. He’s intimidating and all, but he treats it like a legitimate business and scolds the violent outbursts of certain members of the group.
FISHING WITHOUT NETS started off as a really cool (albeit depressing) short film and the feature version of it winds up being a really mixed bag. Some of the performances are great, others not so much. Certain characters are well fleshed out, whilst others fall by the wayside until it’s convenient for them to return. Unflinching in some brutal behavior, most of the really shocking parts are left just out of sight of the camera. Thanks to some unfocused narrative choices and anti-climatic plot thread tie-ups, FISHING WITHOUT NETS feels like 4/5ths of a really solid effort. It could have been good or even great, but it winds up just being a decent attempt. There’s potential for a fantastic film in FISHING WITHOUT NETS, but the final result is merely okay.