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Stockholm Explores the Real-Life Incident That Coined the Syndrome 

click to enlarge Ethan Hawke robs a bank and takes hostages in Stockholm, but there's no real point.


Ethan Hawke robs a bank and takes hostages in Stockholm, but there's no real point.

Ethan Hawke has been a dependable presence in films for nearly 35 years, but it was only when he entered his forties — illustrated by Richard Linklater's decade-spanning personal epic Boyhood — that the former juvenile star gained his current status as the reigning king of independent films. Directors know that if he's given a difficult film like First Reformed, he'll provide energy and depth to hold it together. They also know he can turn on the charm to give light romantic films like Juliet Naked more depth than they deserve. He's a force of nature, the last untamed spirit carrying the Gen X flag into middle age, just as Jeff Bridges did for the previous generation.

Director Robert Budreau knows what Hawke is capable of — the two men last collaborated on the 2015 Chet Baker biography Born to Be Blue — and essentially hands the creative keys over to his lead actor in the new Stockholm. Sure, there's a relatively detailed plot and a handful of secondary characters, but Budreau can only devote so much time to them before he's distracted by the outsized performance in the center of every scene. What should have been a tension-driven crime film becomes The Ethan Hawke Show, with the star doing his best to provide the energy and personality lacking in the script.

Stockholm is a very loose retelling of a real event, a 1973 bank robbery in the eponymous Swedish city, in which the would-be thief, Jan-Erik Olsson, held four hostages in a vault for nearly a week. By the time they were released, the hostages had bonded with their captor and refused to testify against him. Olsson's place in the annals of crime may be minor, but the behavior of his hostages gave a name to a newly diagnosed psychological condition: Stockholm syndrome.

In Budreau's version, the bank robber, now called Hansson (Hawke), is a wild but slightly naïve, denim-clad hippie in a cowboy hat and wig with a bagful of weapons and a transistor radio. He's loud, he's brash and, after demanding to be reunited with his jailed brother (Mark Strong), more inclined to relive old stories and sing along with Bob Dylan songs than to hatch viable crime schemes. (He's also, curiously, the only cast member with an American accent.) No wonder the hostages (including Noomi Rapace as a mousy, unhappily married bank clerk) find him more interesting than the very dull, square police detective who's always trying to spoil their fun.

Sidney Lumet's excellent 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon is a model for this kind of bank-robbery-as-cultural-rebellion story, but Stockholm is a few generations removed from that film in time as well as in spirit. Lumet's film was based on a real robbery that had occurred only three years before; the tension between the criminal and the police and the sense of a crime scene turning into a media spectacle still resonated. Budreau's film, with its wigs and costumes, period detail and golden-oldies soundtrack, is an act of nostalgia: it's more play acting than rebellious. It rolls along pleasantly for about 90 minutes, but there's no heart in it, no commitment. Hawke gives it plenty of charm, but he can't give it credibility. Budreau gives his character room to fly, but leaves out any kind of dramatic foundation when he has to come back down.

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October 20, 2021

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