Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken

With one of the most literal titles in recent memory, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken tells the remarkable true story of a group of childhood friends who kidnapped the Heineken beer tycoon and held him for ransom in Amsterdam in 1983. Director Daniel Alfredson (The Girl Who Played With Fire) imbues the movie with many of the conventions of a heist film, except instead of robbing a bank or stealing money from a casino, his criminals are stealing a human being. While the specific events of this film are admittedly unique, the themes are as old as time itself: living in a tough economy, yearning for a better life, and eventually, greed as the cause of a downfall.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Anthony Hopkins

(The whole time I was watching this, I thought Daniel Alfredson was the same guy who directed the excellent vampire drama Let the Right One In, but it turns out that was actually Tomas Alfredson, Daniel's younger brother.)

Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, and a couple other less famous men star as a bunch of working class guys trying to make ends meet in Amsterdam, and though their characters have names (again, they're based on real people), this is the kind of movie in which their names aren't important. I never knew what they were until the very end of the film, which briefly offers a text update about the ultimate fates of each member of the gang. The movie starts with the group getting turned down for a business loan, and instead of getting normal jobs, they opt to rob the richest man in town and hold him hostage for the reward money. That man happens to be Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins), the beer company billionaire. But to pull off the job and get away with it, the guys realize they'll have to make it look like the kidnappers are organized professionals with mob ties - that way, no one will suspect a bunch of local idiots like them.

Eventually they pull off the job, and most of the film takes place with Heineken and his driver boarded up in small rooms in an abandoned warehouse as the guys sit around and try to decide what to do with them while they wait for the ransom money. Hopkins does some solid work, seeming like a caged animal at times as he bounces back and forth between calm rationalizing with his captors and unbridled rage as the days turn into weeks. Sturgess is fine as the leader of the group, and Worthington (as usual) leaves no lasting impression whatsoever. Despite Hollywood's insistence to the contrary, he's not a movie star: he's just a body on screen, and it never feels like he makes any choices as an actor or takes any risks. He just sort of stands around and recites lines, and he never convinced me that he was playing a character.

"A man can have a lot of money, or he can have a lot of friends - he cannot have both," Hopkins opines in his iconic baritone voice. It's the movie's mantra, and as time passes and the ransom becomes a bigger factor in the plot, it begins to come true. The group fractures and goes down one by one, and for a minute it feels as if the film wants to be a morality tale warning the audience against taking similar actions in today's tough economic times. But there's really not much going on underneath the surface here: it's a film that hammers home its thesis in voiceover as the credits begin to roll, hitting us over the head with the fact that the movie has one idea and one idea only to impart to the audience.

The cinematography is blurry, grainy, and drab, but I'm not entirely sure if that was a choice made in an attempt to recreate the era as a constant reminder that this is a period piece, or if it was just poor filmmaking. The color palette matches the dialogue - mostly dull and uninteresting - but I must admit that I was engaged with the movie for the entire runtime, largely because I had never heard the details of this true story and wanted to see how it would turn out. The film isn't bad, but it's far from great; I feel like it's perfect Netflix viewing material: something with recognizable faces, a decent hook, and a short 95 minute duration. You could find something better, but you could certainly end up with something a lot worse.

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