Kidnapping Mr. Heineken

Early in Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, a group of pals attempt to come up with a last-ditch plan to save their failing construction company. Eventually, we get around to this exchange:

“Are you talking about placing a bet or committing a crime?”
“That's all committing a crime is – placing a bet. We're betting our liberty against the payoff. Because that's all we have to bet – our liberty.”

That's the sort of insight you can expect on a regular basis from this new thriller, which takes a fairly interesting true story and turns it into a bland, lifeless bag of crime movie cliches. It plays like a far less imaginative version of Suicide Kings, which is alarming when you consider that Suicide Kings already feels like a far less imaginative version of Reservoir Dogs. It becomes apparent all too quickly that almost no one involved is really putting much effort into this project, and that makes it difficult to watch. This isn't a movie swinging and missing; it's a movie taking a nap at the plate.

The true story of Freddy Heineken's kidnapping has plenty of dramatic potential. The successful Dutch beer magnate and his driver Ab Doderer were abducted in the fall of 1983, and were held captive for three weeks. They were only released after Heineken's associates agreed to pay a whopping 35 million Dutch guilders – one of the largest ransom payouts in history. The young men who kidnapped Heineken spent two years plotting their elaborate scheme, and several failed attempts were made before the mission was carried out successfully. A remarkable amount of care and planning went into the crime, but you wouldn't know that from watching the film.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken present the abductors as a bunch of desperate, foolish young lunkheads who come up with a crazy idea and somehow end pulling it off. I don't really object to the film taking substantial liberties with the facts, but smarter characters almost certainly would have improved the movie: it's almost impossible to believe that guys this dim-witted could evade the authorities for so long.

I'd attempt to describe the kidnappers to you, but the characters are so underwritten that I honestly couldn't tell you anything about the differences between them. I can say the four pals are played with consistent lifelessness by Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Sam Worthington (Avatar) and Mark van Eeuwen. Sturgess is playing the main character (I remain unconvinced of his abilities as a leading man, but I'm not in charge of these things), so he gets to feel the most conflicted about the whole thing and gets to play a boring romantic subplot in his spare time (it starts with “we're having a baby!” and eventually moves to “you missed the birthing class because you were too busy doing whatever shady stuff you do!”).

The film was directed by Daniel Alfredson (brother of the talented Tomas), who seems to have abandoned the fairly polished techniques he brought to the Dragon Tattoo sequels. His action scenes are staged with “who cares?” sloppiness, and he slathers everything in a tedious, generic thriller score from Lucas Vidal. The scenes of desperation and paranoia never manage to generate any tension, partially because the performances are so unpersuasive and partially because Alfredson seems to be directing on autopilot. People make movies to make money, but in this case it feels like there are no other reasons involved.

The only person who brings something of value to the table is Anthony Hopkins (The Remains of the Day) as Mr. Heineken, who seems to have the mistaken impression that he is being asked to deliver a real performance in a real movie. He has surprisingly little screentime given the fact that his name is in the title (considering the way the film resists cutting to him unless it's absolutely necessary, you sense that Hopkins was only available for a few days), but he does compelling work here. Hopkins plays his early scenes with detached amusement (seemingly certain that the plan his captors have concocted will unravel with record speed), but over time begins to allow increasing portions of desperation into his mind. After a while, his frustration has him practically scratching at the walls. By that point, I could certainly relate.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken

Rating: ★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Year: 2015