New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Stockholm

Ethan Hawke stars in this thriller which is really theater of the absurd. It explains the conditions known as Stockholm Syndrome. That’s when hostages become sympathetic to their captors and sometimes end up defending them, even after they’re in prison. The film is based on the 1973 bank heist and this version turns romantic comedy.

Writer/Director Robert Budreau (Born to Be Blue, also starring Hawke) took liberties with the facts when he wrote this script. It’s based on a 1974 article by Daniel Lang called “The Bank Drama.“ about a real bank robbery with hostages. The real life robber was Swedish. In this film, Budreau makes Lars Nystrom Swedish, but having grown up in America. Hawke is dressed like a cowboy sporting a leather jacket with a Texas Flag across the back, a bad wig and a cowboy hat. He pulls out an automatic rifle and the heist about to go wrong is on. 

Lars’ demands are few. He wants a million dollars in American money and he wants the Prime Minster of Sweden to spring his buddy, Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) from prison. He only keeps three hostages and lets the rest of the bank staff and patrons go. The hostages are Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace), Klara Mardh (Bea Santos), and another male. Now it’s a standoff. 

Noomi Rapace takes charge. She sounded the alarm but now placates her captor by following orders. It’s evident from the start that Lars has not got a solid plan. He’s wingin’ it. He’s incompetent on many levels, but not a bad guy. That’s what makes him and this whole incident unpredictable. He goes from calm and reasonable, even friendly, to totally out of control batshit crazy at the drop of his cowboy hat. You never know when violence could erupt. Hawke plays this to the hilt, smirking and laughing, and being too nice to his captives.

Rapace as Bianca becomes his focal point. She plays the damsel in distress well. She also tries to be cooperative and, in the process, gets to know her captor so she can have some influence over his actions. She just wants to get back to her 2 little kids and to her husband, Christopher (Thorbjorn Harr). Chris is pretty bland and director Budreau shows flashbacks of Bianca and Chris with the kids as not being very exciting. Budreau juxtaposes the life of the outlaw who has now entered Bianca’s space, with the hum drum existence of a bored wife and bank clerk/mother. Rapace’s close up facial expressions are all so calm, understated and are very effective in this role. Budreau shoots Bianca tight with her back to Lars as they talk to get her real expressions as she’s trying deal with the harrowing situation. She even get to play dead when Lars tries to protect her, but she accidentally gets hurt. Even that’s kind of funny. 

Mark Strong is anything but in this movie. This is a weird role for Strong, especially after playing the smart, well dressed strident villain in Shazam. As Gunnar, he is wearing a stringy wig and rumpled denim clothes. He is also taking orders from Lars, but sometimes stops his fearlessness from getting even more reckless and goofy.

Neither Lars nor Gunnar want to be violent. When the police chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) gets involved, negotiation gets silly. New demands from Lars include food, cigarettes, beer and a getaway car, the same model and color Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt. And they want to take the hostages with them to make a safe getaway.

Budreau goes back and forth showing what’s going on inside and outside the bank. Lars and Gunnar get tricked into being locked in a vault they thought was a safe place to be and with the hostages. Police and special units surround the bank strategizing how to get the hostages out, but strangely, the hostages don’t feel threatened. They begin to identify with their captors and are very considerate of each other. There’s even some time for romance. 

Budreau and Cinematographer Brendan Steacy create an atmosphere of extreme tension at times, but there’s always comedy underlying what’s happening. Noomi Rapace is very calm and matter-of-fact telling her husband on the phone what to make the kids for dinner. Not what you’d expect under the circumstances. Why wasn’t her husband at the bank? It seems she has more rapport with her captor than her husband. That’s classic Stockholm Syndrome. 

This film is very uneven. At times you’re rooting for Lars and Gunnar. At other times, you’ve had enough and want it to end. Hawke and Rapace are fun to watch playing against each other. Strong looks uncomfortably out of place in this role. The performances recreating this event are mildly entertaining. At times this film may grab, but not capture you.

Smith Global Media                 92 Minutes                  R

from Movies and Shakers

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