Stockholm Syndrome is a term coined by newspapers reporting on the conclusions made by a Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist on an event that occurred in the early seventies. The name given to the peculiar condition was Norrmalmstorgssyndromet, something that would clearly prove unpronounceable to the majority of English speaking readers. To make things easier, a new term was created, one that was based upon the name of the country’s capital where the condition was first reviewed.
In 1973 a Swedish convict who was on parole walked into a bank in Stockholm, held four people hostage, demanded money and the release of a friend from prison, and negotiated with police for six days before being captured. The curious thing was the behavior of the hostages: none would testify against their captor in case it jeopardized his defense. In fact, they even began to raise money to help him pay for court costs.
In the new comic drama Stockholm from writer/director Robert Budreau, the attempted robbery is recreated (emphasis on the comic) beginning with the title ‘Based On An Absurd But True Story’ which somehow feels like a tip-off that what you’re about to watch isn’t exactly going to be the truth. It’s reminiscent of the opening title to Paul Newman’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) that read: Maybe This Isn’t The Way It Was – It’s The Way It Should Have Been.
Ethan Hawke plays Lars Nystrom, a foolhardy thief, born in Sweden but raised in America. He dons a wig, leather jacket, and a cool pair of seventies shades, and enters a bank to the sound of Bob Dylan on the soundtrack singing, “This must be the day all my dreams come true.”
After turning on some music from his portable transistor and declaring to himself, “And the party has begun,” he fires his weapon into the air and clumsily takes control of the bank. “Tie her up,” he orders one of the bank employees, “And don’t give me those eyes.”
Nystrom’s demands are simple. He wants one million dollars and the release of a prisoner called Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) or he’ll start killing hostages. Thinking he’s dealing with someone from the U.S., Chief of Police Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) states, “Love these Americans. Why can’t they just stay home?”
As events humorously unfold – Nystrom and Sorensson want their getaway car to be the same model as the one Steve McQueen drove in The Getaway because they loved that movie – the four remaining hostages, lead principally by Noomi Rapace as Bianca Lind, kind of like the two guys. “Do you trust them?” asks a TV interviewer who snags an exclusive call with the teller during the few days while everyone is holed up in the bank. “More than we trust the police,” she replies.
Events shown are not quite as they occurred, which is regular practice for a writer when recreating a real event in order to make things more cinematic. As often said, real life doesn’t always lend itself to good storytelling. But for whatever reason, all the names of the characters, with the exception of the Swedish Prime Minister, have also been changed, even though the name of the bank, the Kreditbanken in Stockholm, remains the same. For the record, there’s now a clothing store where the bank used to stand.
But it’s not the film’s narrative adjustments that create the problem, it’s the overall tone, bookended by scenes of a somber, reflective Repace sitting by a beach. “I can’t help thinking about what happened,” a voice-over narrates. “You fall for your captive, so they say.” By director Budreau beginning his film with that opening and circling back to the same setting once the story is over, he’s created moments that feel like outtakes inserted from a different film. They actually work against the movie. Plus, by showing the character of the bank teller at the opening, the introductory moment becomes the film’s own major plot spoiler. When Hawke’s bank robber unintentionally shoots the woman in the back, leading us to believe in a shocking surprise that she’s possibly dead, we know she can’t be because we saw her at the beginning of the film on the beach reflecting back. Something as simple as removing the opening and close might have made Stockholm feel like a different movie.
You may read several reviewers write of the film with references to Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975). The comparisons are understandable, if not inevitable. Both are fictionalized events of a real-life robbery and both have good humor, making the perpetrators likable to the point where you hope that they might just get away with it. But the Al Pacino comedy-drama had its laughs grounded in a sense of reality; a gravitas that the lightheartedness of Stockholm doesn’t quite possess.
Yet, even though by knowing what occurred in that bank during those few days didn’t quite happen in the way the film portrays things, Stockholm, as light and as uneven as it feels – the whole thing practically fizzles once done – undeniably engages. And at a brisk 92 minutes, it never outstays its welcome.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 92 Minutes