If you have to explain a joke, it’s not funny. Similarly, if you have to tell your audience how they should react to your movie, it isn’t what you think it is. That’s the situation with the film, STOCKHOLM. Director-writer-producer Robert Budreau (BORN TO BE BLUE) tells us at the film’s outset that it is “based on an absurd but true” event. Yes, it’s sort of true (the names have all been changed) and, yes, it is somewhat absurd compared to today’s bank heist standards, but STOCKHOLM is nowhere near as wacky as Budreau would like us to think it is.
It’s August 1973 and Swedish-American Kaj Hansson aka Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke, FIRST REFORMED; MAGGIE’S PLAN; BOYHOOD) is out on parole when he decides to rob the Kreditbanken in Norrmalmstorg Square in central Stockholm. After taking three bank employees hostage, he insists that his childhood friend and ex-cellmate, Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong, SHAZAM!; THE IMITATION GAME), be released from jail and delivered to the bank. Police chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl, SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO) agrees to Hansson’s demand but secretly makes a deal with Sorensson that he must bring the standoff to a safe conclusion in exchange for a reduced sentence. As the hours become days, the bank employees, and in particular Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace, UNLOCKED), irrationally begin to bond with their captor and support him in his efforts to rob the bank and escape. The events later give rise to the psychological term, “Stockholm Syndrome”.
There has been no shortage of movies over the years that deal with Stockholm Syndrome, from KING KONG in 1933 to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in 2017, but this story has surprisingly never received an English-language treatment until now. (The Oscar-winning DOG DAY AFTERNOON from 1975, about a bank robbery in Brooklyn, comes pretty darn close. Two films about the Norrmalmstorg robbery, one a dramatic account and the other a documentary that features the first interview with real-life robber Janne Olsson, came out in Sweden in 2003.)
Hawke is a fabulous actor but he’s not Swedish (nor is Strong for that matter) and Budreau had to tweak the character’s backstory to fit the actor, making him a Swede who grew up deep in the heart of Texas, no less, complete with a cowboy hat, leather jacket and boots, and a yahoo shoot-’em-up attitude. By doing so, though, the story loses its authenticity and becomes a vastly inferior riff on DOG DAY AFTERNOON. Hawke, for his part, gives it his all by amping up the absurdity of the situation but Budreau doesn’t offer up much depth to the story and it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to build any empathy for our clownish antihero. We’re given a very brief glimpse into Bianca’s marriage that may offer up some clues into how she could fall for Hansson but the story may better have been served had it taken her point of view instead of taking a fly-on-the-wall approach.
STOCKHOLM is not a bad film though and if you’ve got nothing better to watch, or if you’re stuck on an airplane for a few hours, then certainly check it out for Hawke’s performance alone. With any luck, someone will take the bait and finally make a movie about the Norrmalmstorg robbery that provides the audience with a good story and some insight into the characters’ motivations… and without having to tell them so in the opening title card.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, May 21st at 8:30 am HK time!
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