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Kidnapping Mr. Heineken

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Mar 6, 2015
Sam Worthing stars in 'Kidnapping Mr. Heineken'
Sam Worthing stars in 'Kidnapping Mr. Heineken'  (Source:Alchemy)

The kidnapping in 1983 of Freddy Heineken -- scion of the family after whom the brand of beer is named -- generated international headlines and involved the largest sum of money paid for ransom of an individual up until that time. The crime was perpetrated by five men, who are depicted in the Daniel Alfredson movie "Kidnapping Mr. Heineken" by several actors familiar to American audiences, as well a couple of relative unknowns.

Jim Sturgess ("Across the Universe") and Sam Worthington ("Avatar") portray two of the more sympathetic kidnappers, Cor and Willem. Cor and Willem's sister Sonja (Jemima West) are expecting a child; Willem is the sort of hard-charging alpha male who would sooner deal with squatters in one of his buildings with his fists than get cops or courts involved. The other three include Jan (Ryan Kwanten, "True Blood"), an unstable fellow nicknamed Spikes (Mark van Eeuwen), and a lovable scamp called Martin (Thomas Coquerel), also known as "Brakes" to his mates. The five of them are enterprising young men who share a capitalist urge to work for themselves, score big, and live large. When reality fails to correspond to their expectations, they turn to crime -- and do so without much in the way of qualms, at least at first. Later on, when the qualms do come, it's far too late.

Their target happens to be filthy rich -- so much so that the group are willing to, get this, pull off a bank heist just to finance the complicated, months-in-preparation kidnapping, a daring act of lawless defiance that they expect will net them 35 million guilders (that's about $20 million in U.S. funds).

The job is meticulously planned, but what the group doesn't reckon on is how psychologically tough it's going to be. Once they have Heineken in hand, they're stuck with both him and his driver (David Dencik). Days, and then weeks, go by with no answer to their ransom demand, and the pressure takes its toll. It only makes things harder that Freddy is not a man to be bowed or go to pieces; he's played by Anthony Hopkins as a smart, watchful fellow, not given to panic or terror. So savvy is this businessman that the kidnappers -- especially young Martin -- have a hard time looking him in the eye as they keep him manacled and imprisoned; Freddy seems to know just how, and how hard, to push their buttons. "Don't get too personal." one character advises the others. "He'll get inside your head." For a moment you almost think the guys know they've gone and absconded with Hannibal Lecter, but Hopkins dials it down enough that the comparison isn't obvious. Finally, you stop waiting for some sort of master stroke of psychological manipulation and start to wonder whether some sort of Stockholm syndrome in reverse is going to take place of its own accord.

It does, to a degree, but the film doesn't dwell there. In fact, once we're done with the first third, which is paced in a way that lets us get to know the perps and understand their motives, the film doesn't settle down at all; driven by a throbbing score by Lucas Vidal and shrouded in cinematographer Fredrik Backar's nocturnal lighting scheme, the film is a study in antsy jitters. The actors follow suit -- all save Hopkins and Worthington, that is, and the film's hottest moment might well be the fleeting one when Worthington's character, unwilling to be thought of as a pussy by those who are refusing to respond to the ransom demand, looms over an unflinching Freddy, ready to do lethal violence. The moment trails off, alas, and the heat subsides.

That's a recurring problem. For a true-crime story, "Kidnapping Mr. Heineken" is oddly without bite, in part because the bad guys aren't really so bad (not yet, at least; Cor and Willem went on to become notorious criminals), but also in part because of its predictability. Once the fault lines between the characters start to show, there's little suspense about where the shattered pieces of this felonious brotherhood are going to fall. Only the film's emphasis on speed and sparks keeps things moving.

The thing is, though, it works well enough that you don't want to look away, even when Freddy delivers the film's weakest line -- a bleary little homily in which he warns, "You can have a lot of money, or you can have a lot of friends. But you cannot have both." We get the point without it having to be spoken; the fact that those words are replayed at the film's ending feels less like emphasis than a lack of judgment. Enough is enough, already.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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