“Fishing Without Nets” is the latest movie to deal with Somali Pirates hijacking a ship at sea, and it comes on the heels of last year’s “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking.” The scenario may be the same, but the perspective is different this time around. While “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking” observed the pirates from a certain distance, “Fishing Without Nets” is instead told from their point of view. While no one is in a position to condone their actions, director Cutter Hodierne gives us an empathetic view of their struggles which have led them to take such drastic actions to ensure their survival.
The movie opens on Abdi (Abdikani Muktar), a Somali fisherman and loving husband and father, walking through the village he lives in. The place is an utter mess and you get the sense it has been that way for quite some time to where it doesn’t look to offer much in the way of opportunities. Abdi has no interest in joining the pirates on their hijacking missions as he prefers to make an honest living through fishing, but he becomes increasingly desperate as his last few times out at sea resulted in no fish being caught. In the process of trying to get his wife and son out of Somalia to a better place, he discovers he needs a lot more money to make that happen, so he relents and joins the pirates on their latest hijacking mission with the promise of a huge reward. But once the pirates take over an oil tanker, Abdi finds himself wanted to escape the situation even before it descends into paranoia and chaos.
Watching “Fishing Without Nets” reminded me of movies like “Frozen River,” “Maria Full of Grace” and “Alive” which feature characters resorting to life-threatening methods in order to survive. “Frozen River” in particular was about a mother (played by Melissa Leo) whose husband has run out with their life savings, and she is barely making ends meet at a minimum wage job. As a result, she resorts to smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the United States which nets her more than enough money to keep her big screen TV from getting repossessed and for the down payment on her family’s new home. In any other instance she would not resort to this law breaking activity, but when a mother’s livelihood and her children’s are at stake, you know she will do anything to keep a roof over their heads.
That’s certainly the case for Abdi when he resorts to piracy to keep his family safe, and he even says at one point that “a man is not a man until he can feed his family.” When it comes down to it, “Fishing Without Nets” is about the will to survive, and that remains a universal story all around the world. When pushed to extremes, you can bet that no one is going to just lie down and die. No, they are going to fight for their loved ones even if it means breaking the law, so you cannot help but be empathetic to Abdi’s choices even as they put his life in danger.
Hodierne went out of his way to cast non-actors for this movie instead of putting known names in it, and that helps give “Fishing Without Nets” a truly authentic feel which puts you right into the action. While some of the situations are familiar from “Captain Phillips” and “A Hijacking,” he makes this film stand out with its unique point of view and generates some serious tension when infighting starts breaking out among the pirates. Scenes where a gun is pointed at a character’s head are a dime a dozen in movies, but here those same scenes have an intensity that really shakes you up.
Also, Hodierne and his director of photography Alex Disenhof capture some amazingly beautiful shots on the ocean which help illustrate just how isolated all these characters are out there. The last shot pulls away from a boat drifting in the ocean, and it’s truly one of the most memorable moments of any film I have seen in 2014. Considering how small of a budget Hodierne had to work with, this makes what he accomplished all the more impressive.
“Fishing Without Nets” may not be on the same level as “Captain Phillips” or “A Hijacking,” but it is an action packed and intense movie that would make for a perfect triple feature with those two. After it was over, I could see why the Sundance Film Festival decided to give Hodierne a directing award because it really is an impressive debut that invites you into a world that is not the least bit safe to be in. Furthermore it also allows us to understand why Somalis have been resorting to such methods in order to survive, but then again anyone else might be forced to do the same when it comes to surviving in a harsh and endlessly cruel world. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s a truth that hopefully none of us will have to face if we haven’t already.