Movie News & Reviews

‘Stockholm’: When you find the hostage-taker captivating

A bank robber (Ethan Hawke) connects with his hostage (Noomi Rapace) in “Stockholm.”
A bank robber (Ethan Hawke) connects with his hostage (Noomi Rapace) in “Stockholm.” .

Ethan Hawke is the best thing about “Stockholm,” but the moment he strides into a bank, things begin going haywire. With strained comedy, unearned sobriety and Bob Dylan on the soundtrack, the movie revisits the 1973 Swedish robbery that inspired the coinage Stockholm syndrome.

That term is often used when hostages – or victims of any kind, including of relationships and of long novels – develop an identification with their captors. Hawke plays Lars, the robbery’s would-be mastermind, who appears too ridiculous to be persuasively dangerous but who is also meant to be somehow irresistible.

That Lars may not be up to the convoluted operation that he has set for himself is evident from his get-up, which looks straight out of “Easy Rider” (1969).

Drowsy in feel and muted in color, “Stockholm” is lightly amusing and watchable – mostly thanks to Hawke – but never makes the case that this is a story that needed to be told, with or without laughs. Once Lars hits the bank, an incursion executed with gun waving and mouth flapping, he takes hostages, including two employees, Bianca (Noomi Rapace) and Klara (Bea Santos).

In time, the police and Lars begin talking and negotiating. Lars wants his pal, Gunnar (Mark Strong), released from prison. And so Gunnar joins the fray, as does a third hostage. Together, robbers and hostages hunker down and, as grimaces turn to smiles, form a shaky, unconvincing connection that’s reinforced by the ineptitude of the police and apparent callousness of the prime minister.

Stockholm syndrome seems more widely diagnosed in journalism and in pop culture than in medical offices, and is perhaps still most associated with Patty Hearst, whose defense lawyers argued that the heiress hostage turned accused bank robber had gone along with her captors because she was under duress. The jury didn’t buy it, and Hearst was convicted (and later pardoned); the American Psychiatric Association seems similarly skeptical and doesn’t officially recognize the syndrome. It’s unclear what writer-director Robert Budreau thinks of it, although given the attention he bestows on Lars – in camera love and in the dialogue – he seems to think raffish charisma explains a lot.

He gets a great deal of help from Hawke, who takes hold of the movie from his first scene to last. By the time he is staring soulfully at Bianca – Hawke widens his eyes and drains his face of its earlier warring emotions, leaving a look of childlike, near-saintly awe – it’s hard not to wonder if this is a movie about Stockholm syndrome or an advertisement for it.

‘Stockholm’

Rated R for language and brief violence.

Time: 1:32

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