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05-03-2015_kidnapping-mr-heineken_official-poster

On paper, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (2015) must have seemed like a no-brainer: throw Sam Worthington, Jim Sturgess and some fellow named Sir Anthony Hopkins into a film about the real-life kidnapping of the titular beer baron and get the guy who directed the original versions of The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (2009) to helm it. Stir, cook at 350 and voila: instant thriller goodness! The resulting film, however, ends up being much less than the sum of its parts: while Kidnapping Mr. Heineken sports a fairly relentless pace, it’s also overly familiar, a little nonsensical and more than a little slight. While the principals all turn in sturdy performances, it’s unlikely that you’ll remember much of it after the credits roll.

Taking place in Amsterdam, in the early ’80s, we’re immediately introduced to our intrepid gang of wannabe kidnappers: Cor van Hout (Jim Sturgess), his best friend, Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington), “Cat” Boellard (Ryan Kwanten), “Spikes” Meijer (Mark van Eeuwen) and “Brakes” Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel). When we first meet them, the group is trying to secure a renovation loan for an apartment building that they collectively own, a building which has now been overrun by “squatter punks.” When the loan officer indicates that the building will need to be “cleaned out” before any money can be disbursed, the gang springs into action and goes to kick some punk ass. The point is clear: this is a bunch of dudes who takes matters into their own hands.

On the home-front, Cor and his girlfriend, Sonja (Jemima West), are expecting a baby, which has put quite the financial strain on them. Cor wants to provide for Sonja (who also happens to be Willem’s sister) but there aren’t a lot of options out there for someone who’s done time in the big house. The group comes up with a simple, if outrageous, solution: they decide to kidnap Alfred “Freddy” Heineken (Anthony Hopkins) and hold him for the largest ransom in history…$35 million.

In order to finance their scheme, the gang robs a bank in a daring, daytime heist and uses the money to buy weapons, getaway vehicles and a soundproof, hidden room to hide their abductee. After planning the crime extensively, the group executes their mission without a hitch, grabbing Heineken and his driver (David Dencik) and spiriting them away to their hiding place. Once they actually have their quarry, however, everything begins to unravel: the group begins to fall out among each other, Willem becomes increasingly violent and irrational and Heineken ends up being a canny, sly bastard who pours pretty poison in the ear of anyone he comes in contact with. As the authorities begin to close in, will Cor and the others be able to reap their “rewards” or will grabbing Heineken prove to be the stupidest (and last) thing any of them will ever do?

Technically, all of the moving parts in Kidnapping Mr. Heineken do what they’re supposed to do: the cinematography is crisp and polished (Bäckar was also a cameraman on the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)), all of the action scenes have a relentless pace (in particular, the bank heist is a truly impressive, exhilarating setpiece) and the acting is, for the most part, as sturdy as a rock. While this won’t go down as anyone’s shining moment (Hopkins, in particular, is rather stiff), it all works just fine in service of the actual film. As a director, Daniel Alfredson handles the action setpieces just fine, even if some of the more dramatic elements feel a little short-sheeted.

The big problem, as it turns out, is that Alfredson’s film just doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from any number of similar movies: in certain ways, this comes across as a “paint-by-numbers” action film, a generic template where only the names and faces have been changed. None of the characters are really fleshed-out in any meaningful way (there’s some mention made of one of the kidnappers’ families being intrinsically tied to Heineken but that particular plot point leads nowhere), which means that we never get fully invested in them. Sturgess plays Cor like any number of “nice guy forced to do bad things” roles, while Worthington brings nothing new, whatsoever, to his portrayal of the loose cannon. Sonja is just the put-upon significant other, Heineken is just the petulant rich guy. None of the characters ever breaks out of their generic “types,” leaving us with a drama that feels no weightier than the average teen slasher flick.

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is also one of those crime thriller/heist films where the characters act in inexplicable ways as a means of advancing the plot. They take their masks off at inopportune times, leave witnesses behind, and, in general, seem to do everything they can to get caught. Closing text informs us that no one really knows why the group originally got caught: if the real-life criminals were this sloppy and stupid, I’m pretty sure we don’t need three guesses.

In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of Kidnapping Mr. Heineken isn’t what happens on-screen but, apparently, what happened to the real-life participants after the film ended. As that helpful text informs us, Cor and Willem went on to become criminal godfathers in the Netherlands, after serving their 11-year prison sentences. Cor would go on to be assassinated, with scuttlebutt pointing the finger at his own best friend, Willem. Perhaps it’s only me but that actually sounds like a much more interesting story than the by-the-book heist film that we actually get: it’s rather telling that the film never really sparked my interest until it was actually over.

Ultimately, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken isn’t a terrible film, although it is a terribly familiar one. With its slight characterizations, lapses in logic and adherence to multiplex action movie conventions, Alfredson’s film might play well in the background but it’s unlikely to earn your full, undivided attention. In other words, this beer ain’t bad but it is pretty flat.

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