Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Stars: Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, Anthony Hopkins, David Dencik, Mark van Eeuwen, Thomas Cocquerel.
In 1983, five financially strapped businessmen and friends kidnapped Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, the Dutch brewing tycoon and held him for ransom. At the time, the $21 million ransom was the highest ever paid for an individual.
To help finance their kidnapping though the five men first robbed a bank in a daring daylight robbery. They constructed a couple of soundproof chambers at the back of a hut near the docks, where they held Heineken and his chauffeur captive. Police initially believed that the kidnapping was the work of an international terrorist organisation like the infamous Red Brigade, not the work of five individuals desperate for money.
The five men held Heineken for three weeks before the ransom was paid. But during the anxious wait tensions grew between the five, and they became increasingly paranoid and their close knit group slowly began to fall apart.
The leader of the gang was Cor van Hout (played by Jim Sturgess, from 21, etc). a family man with a pregnant wife and desperate for some extra money after his construction business collapsed during the recession. He convinced his brother-in-law Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington) to go along with the scheme. Jan (played by Australian Ryan Kwanten, from tv series True Blood, etc) was a bit more sensitive and began having second thoughts about the whole affair. The gang was rounded off by Frans (Dutch actor Mark van Eeuwen, from The Dinner Club, etc) and Martin (Australian Thomas Cocquerel, from tv series Love Child, etc).
The film is based on the true story of an audacious crime and its consequences as documented in the bestselling nonfiction book Kidnapping Mr Heineken, written by investigative crime reporter Peter R de Vries. de Vries spoke at length to van Hout, and his interviews provided much of the insights and details for the nonfiction book. The script was written by William Brookfield (Rough Magic, etc), but it feels a little prosaic at times. We don’t get much sense of the police investigation, which would have added more tension to the material, nor do we get much feel for how they finally were able to capture the criminals, apart from a brief note that it was an anonymous tip off that led to their arrests. The story was previously told in a 2011 Dutch film that starred Rutger Hauer as Heineken, which supposedly was a lot more authentic and exciting.
Characterisation here is pretty slim, and we don’t get to identify much with the five kidnappers, who are not your usual hardened criminals or lowlifes. They are clearly out of their depth as their kidnapping scheme doesn’t quite go to plan. The kidnappers are mainly presented as a dim bunch of amateur crooks reminiscent of the main protagonists in Michael Bay’s recent true crime comedy Pain And Gain. There are three Australian actors in the cast, but the mix of accents detracts from any attempt at authenticity. Worthington normally has a strong physical presence but it is not put to good use here, while Kwanten is good and brings some subtlety to his role as the more reluctant Jan. Sturgess is also good in a fairly one dimensional role.
Anthony Hopkins plays Heineken, and although he doesn’t get a lot to do he brings a touch of gravitas to the role. The first time we see him inside the makeshift cell is eerily reminiscent of the first time we saw him as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs. Hopkins brings a mischievous quality and intelligence to his performance, especially as he begins to play mind games and match wits with his captors in an attempt to unnerve them during the tense wait for the ransom to be paid.
This is the first English language film for Swedish director Daniel Alfredson, who is better known for helming the second and third instalments of the Millennium trilogy. His direction lacks authority and there are some scenes that seem a little static and lack excitement. However, there is an early exciting chase sequence through the streets of Amsterdam, that has been heavily edited in that kinetic style of Hollywood movies that pumps up the adrenaline, and Alfredson manages to suffuse the ransom payoff scenes with some suspense.
There are some slick production values here, but ultimately Kidnapping Mr Heineken is a rather lifeless true crime drama.