You’ve probably heard of Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which a hostage forms a bond with his or her captor. The name comes from a 1973 bank robbery in which Jan-Erik Olsson held up the Kreditbanken in Stockholm, taking several bank employees hostage and holding them as captives for days; the syndrome refers to their somewhat surprising reactions when they were finally freed. As is often the case with psychological diagnoses, there’s some question about whether Stockholm syndrome is a real thing, and if it does exist it is generally considered a survival strategy adapted by a person placed against their will in an extreme situation.
The events of the Stockholm robbery provide the source material for Robert Budreau’s narrative feature Stockholm; his previous films include That Beautiful Somewhere (2006) and Born to be Blue (2015). The link between this film and the real event is critical because otherwise you’d be likely to dismiss the events portrayed as simply too fantastic to be credible. Unfortunately, the movie version of this story changes key facts and presents a sort of dreamy, wish-fulfillment interpretation that could only be cooked up from the safety of one’s armchair. Budreau tries to have it both ways by opening the film with a title card proclaiming it is “based on an absurd by true story” but fails to pull off the balancing act this story requires. Stockholm doesn’t work as a thriller, lacks psychological insight, and is pretty limited in terms of humor as well, although it may well appeal to people who think on-screen violence is inherently funny and whose love for a flamboyant bad boy and is equalled by their hate for sensible authority figures.
For all the nonsensical nature of this film, it does serve as a vehicle for strong performances by Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace, and Mark Strong. Hawke plays the criminal non-mastermind, here named Lars Nystrom, a Swede raised in America who puts on a cheesy disguise, grabs his machine gun and transistor radio, and sets in motion a series of events that he believes will end with him and his criminal buddy Gunnar Sorrensson (Strong) escaping with a cool fortune. Sorensson is clearly the smarter of the two, but he’s not nearly as flamboyant as Nystrom, and thus is relegated to a supporting role. Rapace plays Bianca Lind, a teller who sets off an alarm and is taken hostage as a result. Unfortunately, while Rapace does a great job with the material she is given to work with, her character is just a pawn in a story about men. I’d say we don’t get to learn much about her, but the truth is that we don’t get to learn much about anyone in this film—we see them carry out actions, but Budreau has no interest in exploring their motivations or thought processes.
The 1970s must have been a great decade for bank robberies, or at least for doofus bank robberies that get turned into movies. The story of Stockholm recalls another, much better movie: Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975), based on a 1972 bank robbery in Brooklyn by John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale (played by Al Pacino and John Cazale, respectively). A short list of what that film has that this one lacks: well-developed characters, a sense of time and place that goes beyond set dressing and costumes, and an appreciation of both the tragedy and the general ridiculousness of the whole situation. | Sarah Boslaugh