A diagnosis of Stockholm Syndrome is not uncommon in situations nowadays when a person begins to sympathize with, even support, the group that has taken him hostage, but even many who use it might not be aware of the event that prompted the phrase. They can be enlightened by Robert Budreau’s film, which recreates—with a good deal of dramatic license, of course—the 1973 bank robbery in the Swedish capital that was the precursor of the Patty Hearst affair and was cited to explain her conversion to the ideology of her Symbionese Liberation Army captors.
As Budreau presents it, there’s a “Dog Day Afternoon” vibe to the heist, which begins on as Kaj Hansson, or Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke), bursts into the Sveriges Kreditbank, pulls out a rifle and demands all the patrons to hit the deck. Dressed to look like a hippie, he wears a long, stringy wig and a cowboy hat, as well as boots and a jacket with an old Texas flag on the back.
Sending most of the customers out the door, he keeps two women as hostages—bank employees Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace) and Klara Mardh (Bea Santos), and announces his demands to Police Commissioner Mattson (Christopher Heyerdahl): a million dollars, a fast getaway car (specifically, the Mustang Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt”), and Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong), an incarcerated bank robber whom Hansson says is the world’s greatest.
Mattson delivers Sorensson, whom he has promised amnesty in return for his help in ending the crisis, but delays in meeting the other demands, a process supported by Prime Minister Olof Palme (Shanti Roney)—who, incidentally, will be mysteriously murdered more than a decade later—in the service of societal order. And in the end the chief will become so agitated over being taken advantage of that he’ll abandon his initial pose of calm restraint and adopt more and more aggressive and cunning actions, including a decision to use gas in the vault to which those inside the bank have repaired.
As the negotiations proceed inconclusively, Bianca grows increasingly supportive of Kaj/Lars, despite the fact that she’s apparently happily married with children; her husband (Thobjørn Harr) even comes down to the bank early on, and she spends most of their conversation giving him pointers on how to make the kids’ dinner. Klara and a third hostage (Mark Rendall) found hiding in a closet also show signs of sympathizing with their captors, but it’s Bianca who becomes positively active in voicing support, even breaking into a phone call with the Prime Minister to ask him to let them all go. (Budreau also bookends the movie with scenes on an older Lind reminiscing about how the experience changed her.)
“Stockholm” sometimes stumbles. The interjections of comedy aren’t always on target, and as edited by Richard Comeau the logistical elements aren’t kept ideally clear (nor is the Swedish political context dealt with). And while production designer Aidan Leroux and costume designer Lea Carlson aim for period authenticity, the result sometimes lacks a genuine lived-in feel.
But the cinematography by Brendan Steacy gives the picture a properly grainy look, similar to that of movies from the seventies, and the lead performances are solid. Hawke, continuing his streak of outstanding performances (one begins to wonder whether the man ever sleeps), really goes for broke, and Rapace is the perfect complement as the mousy captive who proves to possess a steely center when it matters. Strong makes less of an impression than one might expect, but Heyerdahl makes the cadaverous Mattson someone to be reckoned with, in spite of the curves he has to deal with. The rest of the cast is reliably supportive.
“Stockholm” might not make you forget “Dog Day Afternoon,” but while Budreau’s grip flags from time to time, the excellent cast manages to keep the momentum going.