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Hijack–Unfriendly Skies?

In this seven-episode miniseries, released June 29, we see Sam Nelson (Idris Elba), a professional business consultant and expert negotiator, attempt to persuade four terrorists to peacefully land a Dubai-London flight. Each one-hour episode simulates an hour of the seven-hour flight.

The panicky passengers, mostly from Dubai and Great Britain, are ill-suited for the  required teamwork and  unified strategy to overcome the terrorists.  Sam, walking a tightrope between the passengers and hijackers, must convince the hijackers that passengers only want to see their families and he can lead them out of this crisis.  Hot-headed passengers as well as accidental missteps by flight attendants, co-pilots banned from the cockpit, and a stressed couple trying to keep their young children distracted ratchet the tension and pace of Hijack even further. Can Sam coordinate a successful takeover from the terrorists and lead the passengers to safety?

Well, this is Idris Elba, after all.  The character of Sam Nelson demands every ounce of Elba’s physically massive presence and his charisma, underscored by the cramped quarters of the plane. Only he can mitigate the frantic, jittery, potentially disastrous knee-jerk responses of two-hundred passengers .   Only he can brilliantly mastermind every move and countermove by the four strung-out  terrorists as if in a high-tension chess game. 

To compound the high-stakes for Sam, his ex-wife and their angry teenage son are the only ones on the ground who know all the details of the impending doom.  Communicating by hidden cell phone, Sam expresses his regret and fear that these are the last words he will text.  Additionally, an Emirati air-traffic controller and British government officials, including the prime minister, vacillate between shooting the aircraft down and placating the hijackers.

There are plot holes, especially with regard to motivation and backstory.  The thrill and suspense provide the momentum and excitement:  twists and turns, suspense and ambiguity.  We are not expected to care, much less  invest in any anger towards criminal malfeasance, personalities  of passengers and crew.  All characters are given just enough personality to stop them from becoming stereotypes, especially the Arabic personnel and passengers.  [All hijackers are British.]

Scenes toggle between the plane and the ground, which helps give the audience relief from the repetition of hijacking shenanigans and co-pilots/flight attendant helplessness.  But this  series is at its best when it is unrelenting in its action, violence and chaos and showcases Idris Elba’s macho self-reliance.  There are some somewhat laughable moments when government officials bicker with each other and shift the blame to save their own political future.  The reveal of the villainous intentions of the hijackers was a much-needed surprise in the final two episodes.  

Worth watching for action and Idris Elba fans, although this is not one of his best roles. (See June 2021 review of “Concrete Cowboy” and April 2023 review of “Luther: Fallen Sun”, both starring Idris Elba.)

Availability:  Apple+

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