Director: Daniel Alfredson
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jim Sturgess, Sam Worthington, Ryan Kwanten, Jemima West
Runtime: 1 hr 35 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 19 March 2015
Synopsis: Based on crime journalist Peter R. de Vries’s account of what has been called “the most notorious kidnapping of the 21st Century, “KIDNAPPING FREDDY HEINEKEN” explores the abduction of Dutch billionaire brewery magnate Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins) and his chauffeur, Ab Doderer, who were kidnapped in 1983 and held for what was the largest ransom for an individual at the time.
‘Kidnapping Mr Heineken’ is proof that a great crime doesn’t a great crime movie make. Based on the true story of the Dutch brewery magnate’s kidnapping back in November 1983, the case was notable for setting a record for the largest ever ransom payout in the country - that is, a cool 35 million Dutch guilders, or about US$20 million. It was also a rare case where the police were barking up the wrong tree all the while, thinking that his abductors were a well-organized terrorist group like Baader-Meinhof, when reality they were a bunch of five working-class individuals who turned to crime after their construction business went bust.
And yet these sensational elements seem lost in its Danish director Daniel Alfredson’s retelling of the tale, a puzzlingly inert adaptation by William Brookfield based upon an exhaustively researched book by noted crime journalist Peter R. de Vries. Instead of acquainting his audience with the quintet of childhood pals, Brookfield drains them of much personality aside from its leader Cor Van Hout (Jim Sturgess) and his hot-headed brother-in-law Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington) – and if not for HBO’s True Blood, Ryan Kwanten will probably be as indistinguishable from his fellow supporting cast members Mark Van Eeuwen, and Thomas Cocquerel, who round up the unappealing bunch of scruffs.
Similarly, there is no effort made for us to understand their predicament other than a single scene at the beginning where they are denied of a much-needed loan by the bank to keep their company afloat. The moment they concoct an elaborate scheme to rob a bank in order to finance the actual kidnapping however, any motivation driven by their socio-economic hardship is practically thrown out the window. In its place are rote scenes of them planning the heist, scoping out their target’s habits, building separate soundproof cells at the back of a workshed owned by one of them for their mark and his chauffeur, and figuring out alibis for themselves so that they would minimise any suspicion.
In the hands of a better director like David Fincher, we would already be intrigued by the procedural dynamics by the time our protagonists grab Mr Heineken – alas, Alfredson never manages to build anything compelling from their planning, and besides a perfunctory car chase following their bank robbery, the montage that follows immediately after is as dull as a doorknob. Even the kidnapping itself is over and done with without much fanfare, leaving one to wonder if any planning was necessary in the first place seeing as how it was no more difficult than a walk in the park. Any subsequent interplay between the kidnappers and Mr Heineken is equally lacking, and just as lacklustre is how the pressure of their crime takes a toll on their mutual friendship – which is a point that the film tries to make, seeing as how it ends with Mr Heineken repeating his line about how having a lot of money and having a lot of friends are mutually exclusive outcomes.
To get to that, a whole third act is devoted to the kidnappers’ denouement at the hands of the law, but Alfredson’s failure to get his audience to root for the band of ‘brothers’ robs it of any emotional resonance. Since Vries doesn’t offer any hint of just how the police managed to figure out that they were chasing the wrong tail at first, Alfredson’s film offers no such logical connection as well, resulting in a very odd state of affairs where we are one moment led to think that the kidnappers had pulled off their grand plan without a hitch and then later made to realise that the police are already on their tail. It is unsatisfactory all right, not helped yet again that we frankly can’t quite be bothered that the kidnappers each get their comeuppance.
But frankly why should we bother when the filmmakers don’t even seem to be interested in their film at all? There is no effort to expound the intricacies of their audacious plan nor to portray how their interpersonal dynamics change through the course of the kidnap, leaving nothing at all for us to care about or be invested in as the caper unravels. Yes, Anthony Hopkins’ apathetic countenance says it all, and we frankly don’t blame him for not even bothering in the first place. Like we said, a great crime doesn’t a great crime movie make, but an adaptation this dull should truly be criminal.
(For a movie based on a ripped-off-the-headlines kidnapping, this dramatically inert thriller is shockingly dull)
Review by Gabriel Chong