“Fishing Without Nets” is the third movie in recent years to deal with Somali Pirates hijacking a ship at sea, and it comes on the heels of “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 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 own survival.
The movie opens on Abdi (Abdikani Muktar), a Somali fisherman, 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 a mess for quite some time to where it doesn’t appear 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 whole 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 wanting 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 as the bottom constantly threatens to fall out from beneath them. “Frozen River” in particular was about a mother (played by Melissa Leo) whose husband ran out on her 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 enough money to keep her big screen TV from getting repossessed as well as 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 family’s are at stake, you know she will do anything to keep them safe.
This is certainly the case for Abdi when he resorts to piracy to keep his family safe, and he even says at one point, “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 this remains a universal story all around the world. When pushed to extremes, you can bet no one is going to just lie down, give up 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 serious danger.
Hodierne went out of his way to cast non-actors for this movie instead of putting known names in it, and this helps to 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 he generates some serious tension when infighting breaks 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 which 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 saw 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 which 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 is a truly impressive debut which 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 an endlessly harsh and cruel world. It doesn’t make it right, but it’s a truth which hopefully none of us will ever have to face like these men do.