It’s actually borderline impressive how dull Kidnapping Mr. Heineken ends up being. The true story of the capture, ransom and eventual release of beer mogul Freddy Heineken is a harrowing one. Heineken was one of the richest men in the Netherlands when he was kidnapped. He was held for weeks in a brilliantly-constructed soundproof cell that probably inspired that twist from Denzel’s Inside Man. His ransom was the largest ever paid for an individual, and his captors evaded police for weeks following their release of Heineken. The media had an absolute field day with the entire affair, but the personal motives on the part of the captors are interesting as well.
As a film, though, pretty much all of that falls flat. Jim Sturgess plays the ringleader and de facto mastermind Cor Van Hout, flanked by Sam Worthington’s Willem and Ryan Kwanten’s Cat, and each actor does fine with the part allotted to them. Anthony Hopkins is the veteran and obvious draw in the part of Freddy Heineken. Finally, director Daniel Alfredson is an intriguing choice as well, having previously helmed the original Millennium Trilogy before David Fincher took over for the American version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
These players can’t salvage Heineken, and in fact at times the presence of a famous face is more of a distraction or frustration than a virtue. This is especially true of Hopkins, who has limited screentime throughout and yet still manages to steal the show. It’s clear in his brief scenes that he’s having a good time, and when that cell door shuts and we return to the plotting kidnappers it’s even more clear that no one else is having any fun at all. If you manage to cast someone like Anthony Hopkins in your film, wouldn’t you try to actually use him a little more? Upon Freddy’s release Hopkins breaks down in a torrent of pent-up emotion, allowing his rage and fear to flow out of the cell once the door is finally opened. He screams It’s over! and he screams thank you God! and he screams f*ck! and he breaks down crying. Frankly, there’s more life in that 30 seconds than there is in the entire rest of the film.
The chemistry between the gang members, particularly prime players Sturgess and Worthington, is actually okay. One might expect the casting of the muscular hunk who led Avatar in a quiet, second-fiddle-ish role under the dweeb from Across the Universe to be a mistake, but the pair actually make it work. That’s because (surprise!) dweebiness aside, Sturgess is by far the better actor. Again, though, neither of them are exactly Anthony Hopkins — and again, just because their chemistry is okay it doesn’t mean they’re at all exciting to watch.
But we don’t blame them. Avatar didn’t win any acting awards or writing awards, but it was still a whole lot of fun. That’s because a competent director was in the chair, one who knew how to get the most out of each actor in each role. I’ve no doubt that Alfredson is a fine filmmaker, as evidenced by his aforementioned Larsson adaptations, but Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is a whiff. Clichés abound in the set-up, which involves a predictable mix of financial desperation, personal vendetta and sheer thrillseeking machoism; in the execution of the crime, which sees doubt forming in some members of the gang after they encounter Freddy Heineken in his little cell; and in the scene-to-scene stuff that we would usually have no problem in describing as “straightforward”. The problem is that things are far too straightforward here, that a car chase follows all of the rules instead of breaking them or making new ones, that the thugs fail to act like anything but other movie thugs. There’s just no spark.
Apparently Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is pretty accurate as far as the historical events are concerned, so that might be a contributing factor to that lack of spark. It’s no excuse, though. I’d take a Hollywoodized, inaccurate account of a kidnapping any day. While we’re at it, make mine Guinness.