Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is based on the true 1983 abduction of Heineken International CEO Freddy Heineken, which briefly made worldwide headlines and led to the eventual capture of his five kidnappers over a protracted three-year period. On the surface it seems like one might have the makings of an interesting or at the very least suspenseful movie with the basic material (which is adapted from a book by investigative journalist Peter R. de Vries), but director Daniel Alfredson and screenwriter William Brookfield instead deliver a flat, uninvolving caper that never creates any compelling characters and doesn’t generate tension of any kind.
The five men behind the job — Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington, desperately waiting for the call from James Cameron to suit up for the Avatar sequels), Cor van Hout (Jim Sturgess in an unfortunate blonde dye job), Jan Boellaard (Ryan Kwanten), Martin Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel) and Frans Meijer (Mark van Eeuwen) — are driven to crime when they can’t get a loan to save their struggling construction business and can’t sell the building they own because a community of squatters won’t leave. So first they rob a bank, then use the earnings from that heist to finance their more ambitious scheme of snatching Freddy Heineken off the street, sealing him in an elaborate hidden cell and demanding 35 million guilders to set him free.
The beer company magnate is portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, who doesn’t have a whole lot of screentime but chews up whatever he’s given, either muttering to himself or barking demands at his befuddled captors. At least he seems to be amusing himself. The others — none of whom sport a believable Swedish accent, by the way, except for the one actual Swedish guy — often seem unsure whether they’re supposed to play this gang as clowns or serious criminals. The preparations for the abduction go smoothly and professionally enough — at least as far as I could tell from the way Alfredson skims over them — but once the boys have Mr. Heineken (and his driver) in their hands, it’s like someone abruptly slipped stupid pills into their pints of ale.
The screw-ups, in-fighting, finger-pointing quickly start not for any particular reason but because the filmmakers seem to think that this kind of plot always needs them. Some of the characters show signs of violent anger or mental instability, but those traits aren’t developed in a meaningful way; they just spring up to relieve the monotony as the gang members wander around their safe house, waiting for a response to their ransom demands from the Heineken clan. A little lip service is given to the personal motivations of Holleeder and van Hout (the former’s father worked for Heineken for years until he was unceremoniously laid off; the latter has one or two kids — I was never really sure), but otherwise Worthington and Sturgess fail to convey any depth to these two (amazingly, the real-life Holleeder and van Hout ended up becoming organized crime overlords after serving their sentences for the kidnapping — you’d never guess that from this).
Alfredson did a decent job bringing the original Dutch-language The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest to the screen, but there he was aided by well-drawn characters and sharp performances. Here he seems just as lost as his cast, throwing in a few poorly composed car chases in a fruitless attempt to liven things up. But those fail to make one forget just how uninteresting these characters are and what dimwitted turns the story takes. At barely 90 minutes without credits, the narrative seems chopped down to within an inch of incoherency, depriving the story of any resonance or meaning. Kidnapping Mr. Heineken takes a crime that was a pretty big deal at the time — at least in Holland — and makes it seem small and silly. You’d be better off heading to a bar and sipping one of Mr. Heineken’s brews.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is in theaters and on VOD now.