Anthony Hopkins ferments a fine rage, perhaps at the “dying of the light,” in Kidnapping Mr. Heineken. As mega-rich Dutch brewery mogul Alfred “Freddy” Heineken, his quicksilver flashes of temper are worthy of other Hopkins creations, even the demigod Odin in the Thor movies. Freddy Heineken was a man used to ordering people around, used to firing people, used to getting his way. He might labor to present calm, unworried face to his kidnappers. But inside, he was seething, plotting and trying to reason his way out of the fix he found himself in back in 1982.
Hopkins’ Heineken is the most interesting character in this entirely-too-straightforward caper picture from the Swedish director Daniel Alfredson, who helmed the last two Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies. It’s a shame the film isn’t really about Heineken, but about the generic, younger and in-over-their-heads building contractors who nabbed Freddy and demanded the highest ransom ever paid up to that time.
Jim Sturgess, in one of those unflattering mop tops of the day, is the ringleader – Cor – a man who lost the business he shared with three other guys (played by Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten and Mark van Eeuwen) in a recession. The bank won’t lend them money, the authorities won’t let them lawfully or unlawfully evict the squatters who have taken over the one building they own together as collateral.
But that attempted eviction hints at the violence they’re capable of. Cor pitches a kidnapping scheme to tide them over, and the others, with varying degrees of reluctance, sign on. Cor is a gambler.
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“That’s all a crime is, a wager. You bet your liberty against the payoff.”
Early 1980s Europe had terrorist gangs pulling jobs just like this, so Willem (Worthington) insists that they “look professional” about it. They’ll hit a bank first to finance the kidnapping. They’ll speak German in front of their victims and make like the whole thing is a Red Army Faction of Baader-Meinhof Gang heist.
Alfredson stages the bank robbery and the kidnapping that follows with verve – WWII vintage machine guns blazing, a chase along Amsterdam’s canals. The script elects to not spend much time on the planning, hiding the details of what they’re trying to pull as a way of ratcheting up the tension and surprising us with the action. That almost works.
What comes later, though, dominates the film – a long waiting game, with the occasional nakedly cunning moment when Heineken promises them a clean escape if they'll let him and his driver go. Tensions mount, fissures open in the gang.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“What’s right with him?”
All routine elements to thrillers like this, with Sturgess gamely suggesting an ordinary guy, in over his head and in love – which we know means trouble – and Worthington (Avatar) somewhat convincing as the gang’s hothead – capable of going down in a blaze of glory.
It’s a good looking film, just a tad on the dull and predictable side. But the occasional flash of Hopkins threatens, at several moments, to turn this formulaic true-heist tale into something more psychological, more pathological or at least allegorical. He isn’t really given the chance.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Cast: Jim Sturgess, Anthony Hopkins, Sam Worthington
Rated: R (strong language)
Running time: 94 min.