A film review by Craig J. Koban August 24, 2019


2019, R, 92 mins.


Ethan Hawke as Kaj Hansson / Lars Nystrom  /  Noomi Rapace as Bianca Lind  /  Mark Strong as Gunnar Sorensson  /  Christopher Heyerdahl as Chief Mattsson  /  Bea Santos as Klara Mardh  /  Thorbjørn Harr as Christopher Lind  /  Mark Rendall as Elov Eriksson  /  Ian Matthews as Detective Vinter

Written and directed by Robert Budreau




The new fact based crime drama STOCKHOLM takes its name from, yes, the Swedish city, but the film is also based on a 1974 Daniel Lang New Yorker article that concerned a real-life bank robbery and hostage situation that occurred at a major bank in the city.  

Taking place at Norrmalmstorg square in Stockholm in 1973, this well publicized incident - one of the first criminal events to be broadcast on live TV in the nation - helped coin the term "Stockholm Syndrome", which occurs when the victims and hostages begin to psychologically form sympathies for their captors.  Obviously, such feelings should be considered pretty irrational, seeing as it's the hostages themselves that have their very lives being held in the balance as a result of the dangerous demands of those that wave guns in their faces. 

The robbery itself involved a convicted prisoner on leave named Jan-Erik Olsson holding up the bank in question, with his buddy in Clark Olaffson being brought to the bank by police as one of his demands, and the pair would later find ways to bond with their hostages.  Five days later, the criminals surrendered, leaving Olsson sentenced to a decade behind bars (Olafsson was later acquitted).  Of course, interest in this case grew in the aftermath, especially with those that wanted to take an educated deep dive into trying to understand why the hostages themselves felt so close to these petty crooks.  STOCKHOLM tells the story of this robbery and its aftermath in the broadest of strokes, and aside from a solid and endlessly watchable lead performance by Ethan Hawke, there's simply no much meat on the bones to this film.  It simply falters as a commentary piece on the nature of Stockholm Syndrome, not to mention that as far as fact based crime dramas go, the film is disappointingly bland and forgettable.  

DOG DAY AFTERNOON it ain't.   



The film opens with the title cards "based on an absurd, but true story," but the overall execution of said story is mostly perfunctory and lacking in genre busting stylistic freshness.  It begins with a loose canon crook named Lars (Hawke), who marches into the aforementioned Stockholm bank in 1973 and proudly boasts that he's "an outlaw" and is there to rob the institution (considering his outlandish attire and beyond obvious phony wig, he looks more silly and threatening).  He manages to take the scared employees as hostages at gunpoint, one of which he starts to form an immediate connection to in Bianca (Noomi Rapace).  It soon becomes clear that Lars doesn't want money, but rather the freedom of his old pal Gunnar (Mark Strong), who's currently in prison.  The police chief (Christopher Heverdahl) acquiesces to Lars' demands and indeed delivers Gunnar to the bank, but things begin to boil over shortly after that when the bank robbing pair makes an ultimatum to police that they wish to leave the bank with the hostages in tow.  The chief obviously will not allow this, leaving Lars and Gunnar in a precarious place, mostly because they have begun to garner sympathy from their victims and begin to realize that they might have to off one of them to show the police that they're not to be trifled with. 

What makes STOCKHOLM modestly engaging is, as mentioned, Hawke's very presence in it, and this role of the somewhat hapless thief allows the veteran actor to immerse himself in this quirky, charismatic, and sometimes in way, way over his head baddie.  It's a sly and tricky performance feat, mostly because Hawke has to show this man as a undeniably reckless thief that nevertheless has a cagey charm that makes him likeable to his captives.  If he were too aggressively hostile then audiences would have never bought into the fact that the bank employees would form emotional ties to him, but if played too silly and over the top then he would have come off as an unbelievable buffoon.  Hawke finds an economical middle ground, evoking just the right amount of manic vitality and wounded vulnerability to make this character feel more fleshed out than what's on the page.  He's paired nicely with the always reliable Strong and, more importantly, with Rapace, who's made a relative career out of playing ultra strong willed and intensely independent female heroes (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and PROMETHEUS).  In STOCKHOLM she's definitely sidelined with a fairly stock woman in crisis/victim role, but she nevertheless imparts in it some moments of authentic and relatable pathos.  She occupies one of the film's best and most dramatically potent moments when - while held at gunpoint - she tearfully gives her terrified husband supper prep advice, seeing as she mostly likely won't make it home that night to prepare the fish dinner. 

But, man, this film doesn't quite come together as compellingly as it desperately wants to.  Considering the litany of hostage/robbery thrillers that have graced the silver screen in the wake of this historical event - far too many to even mentally count - this leaves the makers of STOCKHOLM working overtime to try to impart some innovative freshness in the proceedings.  Regrettably, the film does very little to make this premise come meaningfully alive, and more often than not it comes off with the aesthetic plainness of something made for TV.  That leads to STOCKHOLM having very little lingering staying power quickly after you've left the cinema.  Writer/director Robert Bedreau does assemble a fine group of actors whom all do uniformly stellar work here, but his scripting lacks nuance and embellishment about the historical particulars on top of failing to make this well worn genre material seem fresh and new. 

That, and STOCKHOLM should have been a thoroughly intoxicating examination of how and why people find some way to sympathize with their violent aggressors.  For a film called STOCKHOLM that's based on a famous incident that coined Stockholm Syndrome...it barely even scratches the surface as to why this became a thing in the first place.  Strip the film of its history and setting and all we are essentially left with is a dime-a-dozen hostage thriller driven on obligatory autopilot.  Clearly, there's been a lot of fictionalizing of the real particulars of this case, which happens with many a film, but STOCKHOLM seems awfully lazy with exploring the phenomenon and given viewers any insights as to what it even thinks about the event in question.  Just what does Budreau think of the bank robbers in question, especially Hawke's Lars?  Does he identify with them as much as his victims?  Does he feel that the attachment the bank employees forged with him is ultimately misplaced and naive?  And what of the whole media fascination with this robbery during the event and afterwards?  STOCKHOLM frustratingly never answers these questions.  

STOCKHOLM is too empty minded for its own good, and especially considering the talent on board in front of the camera.  And at a far too limited 90 minutes, Budreau is simply short changing himself when it comes to developing aspects of this "absurd" true story with any weight and consequences that he obviously wanted to impart on it going in.  If you go into STOCKHOLM hoping to gain some keen understanding of the complexities of the relationship between criminals and their prey and what would convince the latter to look up to and respect the former...then...well...you'll leave this film feeling completely underwhelmed.  I felt sort of hijacked by this film in terms of it squandering my time, and the imminently disposable STOCKHOLM is proof positive that you can marry a grade A cast and a juicy real world period narrative together and mostly fail to make it click together in any exciting manner.  

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