In 1983, a quintet of would-be criminal masterminds snatched Dutch businessman and Heineken International CEO Freddy Heineken under the cover of dusk and held him for ransom over the span of three weeks. Four years later, investigative journalist and crime reporter Peter R. de Vries went and penned a book about the whole dang affair, tellingly titled The Kidnapping of Alfred Heineken. And now, in 2015, Swedish filmmaker Daniel Alfredson has distilled the pages of De Vries’ tome into a feature, alternately dubbed Kidnapping Mr. Heineken or Kidnapping Freddy Heineken, depending either on whom you ask or what country you happen to be in.
The good news is that regardless of what title you use, the film still counts toward your daily allotment of new things learned, unless of course you’re a student of foreign crime and therefore already know all about Heineken’s ordeal. The bad news is that whether you’re aware of the particulars of the CEO’s shanghaiing or not, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is a frustratingly lethargic picture. In desperate need of a spark, a jolt or even a dose of ‘zazz, it lacks in both energy and drive, not to mention vision. This is about as nuts and bolts as a movie can get without betraying an undercurrent of apathy on behalf of its creator, though in fairness to Alfredson it’s probably pretty hard to get excited about material this boilerplate. The script leans on tropes without understanding why those tropes exist. It’s shockingly inert.
Here’s the basic set-up: Cor Van Hout (Jim Sturgess) and his friends (played by Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, Mark van Eeuwen and Thomas Cocquerel) are all strapped for cash as their construction company teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. With no assets to pawn off, save for a derelict building inhabited by squatters they can’t legally evict, Cor concocts a plan to make off with the eponymous billionaire industrialist (Anthony Hopkins) in exchange for a hefty sum of liberation money. Amazingly, the first step of their scheme actually works and they succeed in seizing Heineken and his driver, storing them in a warehouse with a false wall and a pair of sound-proofed cells. Everything goes swimmingly until Heineken’s imprisonment drags out much longer than anticipated and the gang starts to get antsy.
History buffs/snobs might take exception to Alfredson’s depiction of events; as with all “true story” films, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken most likely makes at least a couple of concessions to dramaturgy. But ask yourself this: If the movie presents the facts of the Heineken case with full devotion to truth and accuracy, does that make the results any less of a slog to endure? Are the clichés, the bad costuming and the dodgy casting any less problematic by hewing as close to reality as possible? Hiring a bunch of good actors doesn’t make for a good troupe, and while Kidnapping Mr. Heineken boasts a number of talented performers, none of them manage to disguise the fact that they’re performing. The gears and wheels spin in full view as they recite dialogue and hit their marks. Only Hopkins taps into both his character and his environment without making it look obvious—he portrays Freddy as a man of immense composure struggling to maintain control, as well as his dignity, thoughout the situation. Sturgess, meanwhile, verges on self-parody.
Apart from Hopkins, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken contains a nifty throughline that connects the dots between abductor and abductee. As days drag on with no word of payment for Heineken’s return, Cor spends a brief moment sitting unmasked with his back to Heineken’s open cell, and for a few beats we get the sense that he’s nearly as much a prisoner of his plot as Heineken is. But the film doesn’t go anywhere with this idea, and eventually lets it dissipate into a standardized denouement. Kidnapping Mr. Heineken clearly wants nothing more than to let its credits roll, and so we’re grateful once they do, but it’s hard not to be insulted by the film’s glaring lack of ingenuity and intention. If you’ve seen literally any other kidnapping thriller in film history, from Suicide Kings to Fargo, you’ve seen Alfredson’s movie already, and done both better and worse by comparison. Like the beer boasting Heineken’s name, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is forgettably middle of the road fare: no body, no punch and little taste.
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Writer: William Brookfield, based on the novel by Peter R. de Vries
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Anthony Hopkins, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten
Release Date: March 6, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film for the web since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. Currently he has given up on shaving.