An Unopened World, by David Bax
Like Kevin McDonald’s recent Black Sea, Daniel Alfredson’s Kidnapping Mr. Heineken tells the story of hard men who have nonetheless been beaten down by an economic recession and decide to take their futures into their own hands with risky ventures. In both films, the characters turn to crime but Kidnapping takes its central metaphor a bit too literally, with the lads’ exploits mirroring those of entrepreneurship to the point of pedantry.
Based on a pretty spectacular true story, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken relates the events from Amsterdam in 1983 in which five low-level criminals, some of them family men, kidnapped beer magnate Freddy Heineken. The cast includes Sam Worthington, Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten among the kidnappers and Anthony Hopkins as Mr. Heineken himself. One of the kidnappers warns another, “He’ll get inside your head.” Har har har. But regardless of strained Hannibal Lecter references, these performers give Alfredson a sturdy base for his story.
When we first meet our protagonists, they are mostly legitimate businessmen going to a bank for a loan. Their construction operation was doing well but an economic downturn has pulled it out from under them. Denied the help they need, they decide on another plan and, one thing leading to another, that’s why we have a movie now.
Kidnapping‘s most pleasant surprise comes when, despite what we’ve come to expect from movies about nonprofessional criminals, the guys turn out to be more than competent. Acknowledging the economic truth that “if you want to get rich, you have to be rich already,” they first rob a bank to finance their operation. In the execution of the initial crime and in the exacting planning stage that follows, we see that these are smart fellows who work well together.
Cinematographer Fredrik Bäckar keeps the workaday milieu alive by filtering everything to constantly look like the kind of day that makes you want to stay in bed. Of course, you don’t and neither do these guys. We’ve all got jobs to do.
Like that visual metaphor, everything in the movie is so perfectly on-topic that it soon becomes an airless exercise. All its gears turns smoothly, but like a high school essay in the “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em” structure, it never rises above its thesis.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is blandly more of a parable than a narrative. And, true to form, it has more of a moral than a theme. With this crew, though, the lesson is not the well-worn “crime doesn’t pay.” It’s “don’t go into business with your friends.”