It’s 1982 in Amsterdam, and for four friends, things aren’t looking good in the true story dramatic thriller “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken.” Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington), Cor Van Hout (Jim Sturgess), Jan ‘Cat’ Boellard (Ryan Kwanten), and Frans ‘Spikes’ Meijer (Mark van Eeuwen) are all partners in a construction business that’s about to go belly up. They’re working-class guys, but they meet white-collar resistance when their attempt to get a bank loan to keep them afloat is rejected. Meanwhile, their sole asset and potential collateral — a run down, derelict building — has been overtaken by squatters who can’t legally be moved. And while for most people this might mean trying to find a new job or starting a different business, these young men have had it with struggling to get by. So they take the next logical step and decide to kidnap the titular famous and wealthy beer magnate (Anthony Hopkins) and hold him for ransom, with the idea being that if they pull it off, they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives. As you might guess, this sort of hubris only lasts so long before the plan begins to unravel.
And so, we’re left with the ensemble, and they’re not that interesting a bunch to spend time with. Willem is the brasher hothead of the group, Cor and Jan are the interchangeable sensitive ones who have families at home to care for, while Frans mostly looks after his own interests. The group’s fifth member Martin ‘Brakes’ Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel) takes the role of the young kid in a situation that’s way over his head, and he’s looked over with paternal care by Jan. And the actors all play their roles adequately, even if you get the sense everyone was aching for more to do than just simply hit the marks they’re given. But not surprisingly, it’s veteran Anthony Hopkins who decides to add some color, as misguided as his attempts are. His Freddy Heineken first tries to play mind games with Martin who is tasked with the grunt work of giving Freddy and his fragile driver Ab Doderer (David Dencik) their meals. And later, partially due to the cabin fever of being locked in a makeshift cell, and partially due to Hopkins trying to relieve his own boredom, he starts chewing the scenery in a manner that would be better suited to Hannibal Lecter, but is at least a welcome distraction.
However, it’s only when the film ends after a scant, less-than-ninety-minute runtime, that it finally becomes clear why “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” fails to get you buzzed. Just before the credits roll, we learn that two members of the team would later become the “Godfathers of the Netherlands,” which is a fascinating piece of trivia. But watching the film, you never get any sense of the criminal ingenuity they would later put to grander use. Yes, they executed the Heineken kidnapping nearly flawlessly before it went all wrong, but the movie wants to admire the panache with which they dove into the endeavor without idolizing them. It is a tricky balance to achieve, and it’s one that Alfredson never quite manages. At times the filmmaker wants us to sympathize with their desire to just get the money, get away, and live the comfortable life we all can relate to dreaming about. But as the movie shifts into the third act, that humanizing approach slowly recedes as the net closes in. And the effect isn’t so much jumbled as deadening. In a movie that’s already one dimensional, the more it pulls away from the complexity of these flawed individuals and the themes of class divide (Willem’s father used to work for Heineken before being laid off), the more routine it all becomes.
And “routine” is not the word you want to describe a film that portrays a crime that, at the time, netted the largest single ransom payout in history. It was an astonishing feat, but “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” never conveys how a bunch of working stiffs transformed themselves into a coiled — if scrappy and ragtag — criminal operation. Too content with skipping ahead to show us how it was done, “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” would’ve benefited from having more time to brew. [C-]