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Review: Kidnapping Mr. Heineken

The uninspired and largely half-assed caper drama Kidnapping Mr. Heineken takes a compelling true crime scenario and boils it down to less than nothing for a near complete loss. It strands an overqualified, but miscast group of actors with a script so shoddy and direction so shaky that none of them on their best day could have made it work. They’re largely the only reasons to watch the film, but when the plot revolves around one of the most notorious kidnappings in world history – perpetrated by some figures that would eventually become major names in the criminal underworld – the results should be more than this desultory mess.

In Amsterdam in 1982, a group of down on their luck men begin turning their eyes towards criminal enterprises after attempts at going straight yield nothing. Their plan: kidnap one of the richest people in the world, beer baron billionaire Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins). They’ve never committed a kidnapping before, so all the planning in the world will naturally find them slipping up and having to cover their tracks in certain places. But the real difficulties come when Heineken’s people are slow with the payment of the $35 million ransom (the highest amount ever asked for a single person at the time) and after the group finally gets paid and cracks start to show within the unit.

Who are these kidnappers? If one were to read Peter R. De Vries’ 1987 source material, The Kidnapping of Alfred Heineken, there would be a lot more to say. All that can be gleaned from this version is the following brief descriptors:

Willem (Sam Worthington) is the hot-headed brawn of the operation, and he’s mildly cheesed off that Heineken fired his surly father. Willem’s brother-in-law, Cor (Jim Sturgess), loves his wife very much and is the brains. Jan (Ryan Kwanten) is the conflicted family man. Frans (Mark van Eeuwen) and Martin (Thomas Cocquerel) were also there because it was a five person job. I can’t tell you a single thing those two contribute to the film.

Not only can you tell from the cast list that it’s a film that casts two Brits, a Welshman, and an Aussie for its leads as Dutch figureheads, but also that they have positively nothing to work with. Even Heineken, who seems more mildly inconvenienced at his situation than angry or frightened, are the most simplistic of archetypes. It’s not enough for director Daniel Alfredson (The Girl who Played with Fire/The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) screenwriter William Brookfield to rest on characters this threadbare. The crime itself was one of the greatest of the 20th century, but on a very basic level the folks behind the camera don’t seem to care about any of the players involved. None of the crooks are particularly loathsome or sympathetic, but rather people simply carrying out plot points. They have very little personality outside of the flimsy slips of paper that have seemingly been drawn from a hat at random and ascribed to them. If you can’t bring yourself to care for the characters positively or negatively AND you clearly don’t want to make an artful procedural, then why make the film in the first place?

As such, the cast can only come across as adequate. Worthington has been doing some of the best acting of his career in some incredibly suspect films as of late (Cake, Man on a Ledge, Last Night, Sabotage), and that streak remains unabated here. Sturgess fares the best, but only because the almost passably entertaining final third of the film finally musters something for him to do and feel emotional about (although it does hinge on remembering his wife, a character the film conveniently forgets about until the final act). Kwanten gains some sympathy, not only because he’s the most likable of the crooks, but because he constantly looks to be begging for someone to give him something interesting to do. As for Hopkins, he should be the film’s ace and the hole, but while he’s okay, he’s barely in the film at all. I understand the allure of getting Hopkins into a low budget caper film even for a few moments, but those moments should consist of giving him more than Hannibal Lecter-lite mind games that go nowhere and making him sing “the knee bone is connected to the leg bone.”

Alfredson isn’t helping matters with his style, either. He plays the film’s annoying faux-synth score over every scene with hopes it will create tension where there isn’t any. The few action sequences are cheap and incoherently edited into oblivion with fast cuts. It appears to have been filmed entirely on the same three or four blocks of the city to keep the cost down. Worst of all, he definitely can’t see that the script he has been given is largely illogical despite being based on a case where every fact has been known. Even when dramatizing what happened, there could have been a film that at least made sense and didn’t make everyone involved look like complete doofuses.

Much like Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, the film’s closing titles raise not only a lot of questions, but posit that a far more interesting film could have been made out of what happened following the events depicted in the actual film. Of course, the events that actually happened are far more interesting than what makes it to the screen. It’s a film made by talented people that astonishingly doesn’t improve upon the Wikipedia page of the story it’s based upon.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is getting a theatrical release in Toronto and a VOD release elsewhere. If you feel so compelled that you absolutely have to see it, try to see it in a theatre. The temptation to go and do something else while the film is running might be too much to resist.

[star v=15]

Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker is a freelance film critic in Toronto. You can follow him on twitter @andrewjparker.