The term “Stockholm Syndrome” where the captured feel an affinity with and identify with their captors (think of Patty Hearst for instance), has been around in the media so long one might pause to wonder where it came from. The hostage comedy/drama Stockholm portrays the “absurd but true story” that coined the term. As absurd as the original heist/hostage incident of 1973 was, you immediately recognize that it should have made a brilliant film in the right hands. This one isn’t it.
The film wastes no time as Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke) bursts into Stockholm’s huge central Kreditbanken with a duffel bag of big guns, leather pants, a shaggy wig, and a big ol’ Texas flag on the back of his biker jacket. He is all American swagger, shooting and hollering, but immediately lets all the staff and customers free except for a small handful of employees. His heist is rather misguided than planned out. Sure, he wants a million dollars, but he also wants to free his buddy Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) from prison and drive off in the sunset with him in a Mustang, like Steve McQueen did in Bullitt.
Bank teller hostage Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace) reads Lars as a bit of a wild card, but not necessarily a bad guy. As the police and swat teams circle the situation, guns trained, the hostages feel like they may actually be safer with Lars and Gunnar than with their own law enforcement. As the pressure tightens around the situation, those same unwilling captives are the ones who want to band together with their captors, in an “eff the police” kind of way.
Though the film is somewhat fictionalized, it pretty much sticks to the facts of the actual Norrmalmstorg robbery (as it was known) in 1973. Yes, the story is absurd, which is why it should be perfect for an adaptation like this. Ethan Hawke does the best he can, despite the fact that he just looks like modern Ethan once the wig comes off (all the extras seem to have more attention to 1970s costume detail than the leads). Noomi Rapace has a slightly more interesting role, as she is also dealing with a husband and kids at home, so siding with a criminal may not be the most self-preserving choice. Plus, there is not enough development in character or tone (other than the cramped environment) to have the sexual tension between them believable (other than the fact that they are both attractive humans).
Stockholm is a popcorn introduction to a much more interesting real-life event and its surprising aftermath. The comedy is not sharp enough to be chuckle worthy, and the drama is shallow. If the film succeeds in one thing, it makes you want to Google “Stockholm Syndrome” immediately after the credits roll to get a deeper take on this unusual event.