By Liam Lacey
Ethan Hawke stars as a good-natured misfit bank robber and Noomi Rapace one of his hostages in Stockholm, a movie inspired by the 1973 six-day Swedish bank heist and standoff that gave us the name “Stockholm Syndrome.”
The phrase refers to the condition, akin to post-traumatic distress disorder, where hostages bond with their captors as a survival strategy. The most famous case is that of Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress who was later convicted for participating with her captors in a series of crimes.
The latest from Canadian director/writer Robert Budreau — who previously collaborated with Hawke in the Chet Baker biopic Born to Be Blue — begins with a title card: “Based on an absurd but true story,” which is basically asking us to tune up our funny bones. Though the film that follows is heavily fictionalized and not especially absurd, it’s a clue to its aspirational model, Sidney Lumet’s carnivalesque 1975 heist classic, Dog Day Afternoon.
As Lars Nystrom, a Swedish-born, American-raised robber, Hawke channels Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker character in Easy Rider, wearing cowboy hat, blue-tinted shades, a biker jacket and long hair, which turns out to be a wig. Shortly after the film opens, he walks into the Kreditbanken, fires a machine gun at the ceiling, and orders all the employees except two women to leave the bank.
One of the women, Bianca Lind (Rapace, in saucer-sized glasses) triggers the alarm, which is exactly what Nystrom wanted. His goal is to force the authorities to release his inmate buddy, Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) before taking the money and running. Lars and Gunnar share a love of Bob Dylan songs, even breaking into a duet together, a moment of low hilarity.
Soon, negotiations are underway between the speed-popping Lars, the stereotypically dour Scandinavian police chief, Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) and the unflappable Prime Minister, Olof Palme (Shanti Roney). We are introduced to Bianca’s dutiful and bland husband (Thorbjørn Harr), who she’s allowed to speak to long enough for tell him how to cook fish for the kids’ dinner.
Along with Bianca, the hostages include Klara (Bea Santos) and Elov (Mark Rendall) who’s discovered hiding in a back room, though their dramatic purposes are negligible. Soon, the ensemble of gunmen and hostages are holed up in a vault, fighting a losing battle of wits with the cops… and with the audience’s interest. Lars has one trick up his sleeve: The apparent killing of Bianca, to show the cops he means business.
There’s are a couple of tender scenes here, as Lars, letting his defenses down, comes across as an innocent idiot and the nurturing Bianca responds to his guileless kindness. Their attraction may not extend much beyond proximity and fear but it hits a brief, credible note. You wish you might be watching these actors in that love story, instead of yet another stilted comic thriller.
Stockholm. Directed and written by Robert Budreau. Starring Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace, and Mark Strong. Opens April 12 in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal.