The real-life abduction of the Dutch beer magnate by a quintet of monetarily-challenged chums in 1983 is the basis for this would-be thriller from Donald Alfredson, the director of the original adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” for Swedish television. It tells a reasonably intriguing story, but in a muffled fashion that suggests TV would be its proper venue, too.
The victim is, of course, Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins), who built the family brewing business into an international colossus and made himself one of the richest men in the Netherlands. He became the target of five down-on-their-luck pals, whose construction business had cratered in a recent economic downturn. The leaders were Cor van Hout (Jim Sturgess), the crafty fellow who came up with the kidnapping plan, and his brother-in-law Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington), the volatile muscle of the pair. Their partners were family man Jan “Cat” Boellard (Ryan Kwanten), nervous Frans “Spike” Meijer (Mark van Eeuwen) and young Martin “Brakes” Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel). Heineken was chosen, of course, because of his wealth, but was also a prime target because Willem’s father had worked for his company and still idolized him despite getting canned, a fact that irked Holleeder.
The snatch isn’t all that complicated: since 1983 was a time before even the wealthiest people eschewed major security protection, the ski-masked crew simply took Heineken and his driver Ab Doderer (David Dencik) from the front of Heineken’s house as he left for the office one morning, tossed them into a van, changed vehicles and sped away. But they’d preceded the actual kidnapping with a bank robbery to finance the scheme, which involved building a couple of secret soundproof cells for the captives in a shed owned by Boellard. The men were chained in them, and the quintet then went to their favorite bar to provide an alibi, hoping—as actually happened—that the crime would be blamed on one or another of the violent leftist groups that were troubling the continent in the eighties.
What follows is a rather mundane account of the ensuing three weeks when the men awaited a signal that the ransom would be paid. There are a few tense moments—a taxi briefly follows the van after the kidnapping, and quick action has to be taken when van Hout realizes that he’s left the ransom note in a copying machine. But most of the suspense is supposed to be generated by squabbles among the men about whether to release the victims and forget the whole thing, and by their occasional contacts with the captives. Doderer is terrified from day one, but Heineken proves a more interesting case, mostly because he’s portrayed by Hopkins as a cunning, worldly fellow who plays with the kidnappers’ expectations to try to turn them against one another. The actor uses his familiar bag of tricks, but you’re willing to go along with what’s really a very theatrical turn because it gives some lift to what’s otherwise a pretty tepid piece. A pity there’s not more of his hammy quality to savor (and less of his aphorisms, like “You can have great wealth or lots of friends in this world, but not both”).
It’s not that the other cast members are bad, though Kwanten, van Eeuwen and Cocquerel are largely shunted off to the side. That leaves most of the work to the agreeably scruffy Sturgess and the bulldog Worthington, and both do a reasonably good job, especially in the picture’s latter stages, when the ransom has been collected and van Hout miscalculates by contacting his pregnant girlfriend Sonja (Jemima West, quite good) after most of the crew has already been arrested. According to the inevitable final title cards, it’s not clear who provided the tip that fingered the men, but all of them were incarcerated, and Heineken went on to establish a private security firm—which undoubtedly was profitable, though probably not as much so as his beer franchises.
Technically “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” has a rather ragged look, with the production design by Hubert Pouille and Christopher Stull accentuating the grubbiness of the locales and interiors and Fredrik Backar’s cinematography similarly going for a washed-out, threadbare quality. His work in the action sequences, moreover, has a helter-skelter feel that, when combined with the sketchy editing by Hakan Karlsson, makes for a rather messy visual experience.
This is a film that should have generated plenty of suspense and excitement, but instead it simply moseys along and eventually runs completely out of gas.