Stockholm syndrome is the psychological phenomenon whereby hostages feel sympathetic feelings towards their captors in order to cope. According to the New Yorker, its origins date back to a 1973 bank heist in Stockholm. Stockholm is “based on an absurd but true story” and lives up to its promise set in an age where bank heists were more like high risk smash-and-grabs. The security technology provided silent alarms and close circuit cameras, but this didn’t stop bank robbers from busting in guns blazing, intimidating customers and forcing tellers to make it rain. Nowadays, major banks have more sophisticated security systems and protocol, which have made it easier for criminals to target more vulnerable cash-in-transit vehicles.
Set in Sweden, the action takes place almost exclusively at the bank as a lone gunmen takes a few hostages and begins direct negotiations with the chief of police. The hostage crisis scenario has become a bit clichéd over the decades, requiring filmmakers to put a fresh spin on the traditional bank robbery in order to subvert the feeling of familiar. Writer-director Robert Budreau is able to lean heavily into the true events, which largely follow the formula of your typical bank robbery. While operating within these parameters and keeping a sense of realism, it’s refreshing by virtue of its ’70s vibe. The fashion, music, cars, manners and perceived lack of technology give it enough texture to bypass some of the genre’s trappings.
Stockholm stars Ethan Hawke, who reteams with Budreau after the successful Chet Baker biopic, Born to be Blue. He’s supported by a rock solid ensemble in Noomi Rapace, Christopher Heyersdahl and Mark Strong. Hawke can be a live-wire, bringing some hot-headed spontaneity to the proceedings as Kaj with his Texan-American get up. A reckless one man show, he fires up the party as a laid-back villain. While toting a machine gun and stirring, his relaxed attitude and undercover good guy vibration make him a likable lead. Forming a kinship with his most valuable hostage, Bianca, played with fortitude by Rapace, the tense hostage drama sees her character thawing as her resilient and guarded first impressions are soon disarmed. Hawke and Rapace have good on-screen chemistry, nursing a sense of favouritism as the situation intensifies drawing them closer together.
“Maybe it’s just the Stockholm syndrome talking?”
Absurd enough to retain its comedy edge, the fun and games begin to dissipate along with the Chief’s Mattsson’s patience. While the bank robber starts out on top, managing to corner the authorities including the President, it’s not long before the police department tire of his insolence. Both sides reluctant to back down and unwilling to compromise, negotiations break down forcing police to infiltrate the hostage situation by any means possible. From double agents and old school espionage, things progressively worsen as the cowboy’s last stand make worldwide headlines.
Stockholm has similarities with Argo in terms of its retro style and tongue-in-cheek attitude. Treating a serious scenario as a game gives it a flippant attitude, which plays into the situational comedy. With Kaj a mascot for this rambunctious counterpoint, the gravity of the heist is propelled by Chief Mattsson. Vying for control of the circus each conductor tries to outwit the other. Christopher Heyersdahl has a cold, calculated and aggressive streak as Mattsson, counterbalancing the crazy, let-the-good-times-roll attitude of Hawke.
It’s an entertaining crime thriller, which unlocks the origins of Stockholm syndrome. Solid performances from Hawke and Rapace keep things on the boil despite the genre clichés. While you may think you’ve seen it all before, the retro stylings and crazy seesawing of police chief versus crook and crook versus hostages make for a fascinating and even exciting film experience. With excellent supporting acts in Strong and Heyersdahl, it remains compelling and enjoyable. The various twists-and-turns keep things moving as alliances shift, unfortunately the comedy undertones undermine some of the suspense even when the stakes are raised. Stockholm ends quite abruptly, but as the title suggests it’s all about the behind-the-scenes bank robbery circus.
The bottom line: Entertaining