Written and directed by Robert Budreau
Starring Noomi Rapace, Mark Strong, and Ethan Hawke
MPAA rating: R for language and brief violence
Running time: 1 hour and 32 minutes
by Ryan Smillie
In the mid-1970s, three bank robberies loomed large in the public consciousness. John Wojtowicz’s 1972 holdup of a Brooklyn bank was adapted into Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed Dog Day Afternoon. Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and subsequent participation in a bank robbery with the Symbionese Liberation Army served as inspiration for a significant subplot in 1976’s media satire Network (also directed by Lumet). Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson’s five-day standoff with the police after taking hostage four Stockholm bank employees was never dramatized into a Lumet-directed movie. Instead, it was through this incident that the term “Stockholm syndrome” was born, the phenomenon by which hostages form a seemingly irrational bond with their captors as a means of survival. Unlike Dog Day Afternoon and Network’s relatively quick turnarounds from newspaper headlines to silver screen portrayals, the forty-five years between the original Stockholm syndrome incident and Robert Budreau’s new film, Stockholm, provide a difficult amount of baggage for Stockholm to overcome.
On the surface, Budreau’s film largely resembles the 1973 robbery - Ethan Hawke’s Kaj Hansson (a fictionalized - and Americanized - Jan-Erik Olsson) storms a Norrmalmstorg square bank, takes a handful of employees hostage (three instead of four, including Noomi Rapace in a huge pair of 70s glasses), and demands his friend, Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong, as a Clark Olofsson stand-in), be released from jail to join him at the bank. Five days of unsuccessful negotiations give way to - spoiler alert for a 45-year-old incident - Hansson and Sorensson’s surrender after the Swedish police send tear gas into the bank.
In retelling this oft-referenced episode, however, Budreau careens through a variety of tones, never settling on an angle for the story and ultimately leaving us with a flat and inert film. At times a light comedy about a wannabe tough-guy who’s too volatile to stick to his grandiose plans (and with Steve London’s sitcommy score to match), the film’s flashes of cruelty seem out of place, even if Sorensson and the police chief’s attitudes read as accurate. And when Brendan Steacy’s cool and functional cinematography is dimmed for moments of introspection, mostly from Hansson and Rapace’s Bianca Lind, the film almost comes to a standstill.
Apart from simply being better movies, Dog Day Afternoon and Network have the advantage of being made in the same era they depict. The details within Stockholm often overwhelmingly suggest the 1970s, most notably recurring background commentary on Nixon and Bianca Lind’s almost comically large glasses. The Nixon commentary, though perhaps overused, does serve a bit of a thematic link to the robbery, suggesting a moment in time where the public’s faith in traditional keepers of order - the government, the police - was eroding. Perhaps it isn’t so surprising that the hostages choose to trust their captors instead of the police, or even the prime minister.
But those glasses! Although clearly a style from the period, photos of the real-life hostages show them to be more regularly-dressed Swedes. Even allowing for creative liberties, the glasses don’t do much more than make you think, “Wow, those are some pretty big glasses!” As a period detail, it feels distracting more than anything else, and looks as much a costume (if not more) than Noomi Rapace’s Lisbeth Salander looks.
The one highlight of the movie is Ethan Hawke’s livewire performance as Hansson. Reteaming with Budreau after his thrilling performance as Chet Baker in 2015’s similarly scattered Born to Be Blue, Hawke fully commits to the characterization of Hansson as mercurial yet compassionate, his natural charisma powering through and smoothing over an uneven script. Though far from a top-ten Hawke performance, it’s a performance firmly in his wheelhouse - a raw-edged idealist with a tenuous grasp on reality. While not as revelatory as his Chet Baker, it’s enough to support the movie for its 92-minute runtime.
Ultimately, Stockholm doesn’t have much to say, and leaves its viewers not even with questions, but with ideas of where a better film could have gone. Was this an isolated incident or did it fit into a larger pattern of declining confidence in formerly trusted institutions? Was there something unique about the captors or the hostages that caused them to bond with each other? Why is everybody in Stockholm speaking English? Is “Stockholm syndrome” even real? Maybe in another 45 years someone will be able to tell us.