“Well, Gayle, by this time the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki Syndrome.”
“As in Helsinki, Sweden.” – Comically inaccurate exchange between an author and TV anchors in the original “Die Hard.”
The “Stockholm Syndrome” is a media-friendly catchall term invoked over the last five decades to describe any number of high-profile crimes in which captor and captive have formed an irrational, logic-defying bond.
Writer-director Robert Budreau’s alternately farcical and intense and tragi-comic “Stockholm” is based on the “absurd but true story” (as we’re told in the opening title card) of the 1973 bank heist and hostage crisis that gave rise to that term, which to this day is the subject of much debate and interpretation — and misuse. (When it comes to child victims such as Jaycee Dugard, abducted at 11 and held in captivity for EIGHTEEN YEARS, articles invoking the term “Stockholm Syndrome” to explain why Jacyee was sympathetic to her captors come across as obscenely lazy and simplistic.)
“Stockholm” is based on a 1974 New Yorker article by Daniel Lang about the real-life bank heist of a central Stockholm bank, but writer-director Budreau exercises liberal poetic license in his telling of the tale, starting with the reinterpretation of the colorful, unpredictable, musically inclined Swedish bank robber Jan-Erik Olsson as a colorful, unpredictable, musically inclined AMERICAN bank robber named Lars, who is played by Ethan Hawke (who previously starred in Budreau’s Chet Baker biopic, “Born to be Blue.”)
Donning a ridiculous rocker-wig, sporting a racing jacket, cowboy hat and boots, emboldened by the handful of pills he’s just swallowed, Lars storms into a Stockholm bank, announces his presence with a burst of gunfire into the ceiling and says this is a robbery, and you better take it seriously!
A woman falls to the floor. Someone asks if she’s been shot. Lars says no, she hasn’t been shot, it’s probably a muscle cramp, so can someone get her a banana or something!
Ah. So, Lars is a clown. But he’s also a dangerous clown, what with his manic intensity, and the weapons he’s wielding, and his penchant for cinematic drama, whether he’s playing Bob Dylan on the portable stereo or telling the cops he wants a 1968 Mustang Fastback as his getaway vehicle — the same car Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt.”
Lars allows a dozen or so customers to leave, but he takes a couple of employees hostage, most notably Bianca (Noomi Rapace), who is married with two children. (In one of the most touching scenes in the film, Bianca tries to walk her husband through the process of making a fish dinner for their two children. If she dies, says Bianca, they’ll be able to survive on fish.)
Mark Strong excels as Gunnar, a legendary bank robber who is released from prison and allowed to join his old pal Lars on the scene, per Lars’ demand. Christopher Heyerdahl is terrific as the obligatory no-nonsense police chief who will put up with only so many hijinks from Lars and the hostages, who are becoming increasingly sympathetic to Lars, before taking drastic measures.
Budreau delivers a low-key version of “Dog Day Afternoon.” This is no deep dive into the psychological underpinnings of why a hostage would undergo a radical shift in loyalties over the span of a few days, to the point where she’d fall in love with a bank robber.
But if you’re going to skim along the surface of a story such as this, you’d be hard-pressed to cast someone better suited to the role of the clearly doomed but still irresistible charmer than Ethan Hawke.
Smith Global Media and Dark Star Pictures present a film written and directed by Robert Budreau. Rated R (for language and brief violence). Running time: 92 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.