Kidnapping Freddy Heineken
More flat than furious
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What to Expect
The very challenge faced by the makers of a film based off true events is their constant struggle to mix authenticity – historical accuracy, if you may – with their share of creative liberty in the form of fictitious threads most of these outputs are usually laced with. And when you have a figure like the legendary brewing king Alfred “Freddy” Heineken involved, you’re expected to darn well do your job right.
The Dutch businessman’s kidnapping was, for all I’ve gathered, one of the most high-profile kidnappings of the time. It’s no surprise then for having already attracted the attention of filmmaker Maarten Treurniet, who would later go on to successfully put together and release its big-screen adaptation, De Heineken ontvoering (lit.: The Heineken Kidnapping). Daniel Alfredson’s choice of topic thus isn’t exactly as unique as it is aggressively localized for the English-speaking audience.
Try as you may, Fincher’s masterfully directed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has but one major flaw: the characters, although set in Stockholm, don’t exactly speak Swedish, and don’t look Swedish. You’re still watching an English-language film, which takes the inherently discerning viewer completely out of the equation. It’s quite funny thus that Alfredson – ironically the director of the second and third part of the Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium/Dragon Tattoo trilogy – would end up directing this one.
To be honest though, there’s quite some expectations to be had – most emanating primarily from an expectably terrific performance from Anthony “Hannibal Lecter” Hopkins. His potential performative dynamics alone give the movie a considerable edge over Jim Sturgess (and his hair). And for the more superficial ones, there’s Sam “Avatar” Worthington, who’s always given a good performance – up until he decided to star in Man on a Ledge, which pretty much sucked
(for lack of a more sophisticated word to use to blend in the words in a sentence).
But hey, you can’t exactly judge book by its cover, can you?
What’s it About?
So there’s a group of failed people who – in desperation for money – decide to stage one of the biggest jobs ever: the kidnapping of brewery king Alfred “Freddy” Heineken (Hopkins).
Stuff happens after that.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Between Jim Sturgess’ hair, the heartbreakingly middling screenplay and Hopkins’ less-than-important performance, I can’t exactly pick a singular aspect that turned the film upside down. The truth of the matter is, however, that the film kinda did.
While Alfredson successfully sticks to the usual British indie-biopic template – the low-in-contrast color grading et al – it doesn’t exactly help matters. What does attempt to help, however, are some very good filmmaking decisions that he hits home for. There’s a particularly random intercut of a guy screaming in a baffled room that appears into the flow of events out of the blue, jolting the audience out of their reverie. This is later revealed to be a test on how baffled the room is. The scene, directed and edited exceptionally, is a pristine example of what the movie should have been otherwise. What the movie is, however, is far, far away from that sudden rush of adrenaline; it’s a basic, below average almost-true-to-life thriller of a particular major event in history which should quite obviously have been handled on a relatively more tasteful level.
Mix that in with the jarring fact that its a British film with mostly British actors, and you’ve got a film about Dutch people with a weird technical glitch. You might argue that it’s an English-language film, but what’s a story based on true events without accurately played characters?
The characters we see on screen aren’t ones we give a damn about, which makes it extremely difficult to relate to them on a personal level. And then you have Hopkins’ victim. He doesn’t exactly do anything in the film; much less play the famed ‘mind-games’ you’d ordinarily expect him to. You’d practically be able to replace him with any other decent performer and they’d do equally well for the role.
You see, Hopkins is nothing but bait; a naturally great performer with an extensive marketing leverage. This was almost a natural move for the makers, considering the rest of the acting gigs wouldn’t exactly have the power to be banked on enough. For that alone, the producers deserve credit. But that’s where it all ends: there’s nothing that Hopkins deserves that’s part of his role. Which is when you’re left with passable cinematography, basic editing techniques and a surprisingly nice score. But when it’s the narrative that’s limp, you’re not exactly of knowledge on what to do, are you?
To Perform or Not to Perform
Hopkins is a fine performer, and glides through this one with ease, despite his character graph being dismally conventional. Jim Sturgess is decent, but the color of his hair is just too distracting for anyone to take note of any performative dynamics on his part (which, here, are too unfortunately restrictive). Sam Worthington is mostly angry, and he might just not be that bad at it. It’s another thing his performance feels so one-note here.
The others are treated mostly like props, but they aren’t that bad.
Apart from being an inherently English-language film with specific British performers for a story that’s supposed to feel localized (if only in diction) for Amsterdam, Kidnapping Freddy Heineken meanders between the flat and the furious; ending up less the latter than the former. Alfredson does a functional job as the director of a film that doesn’t seem to give a rat’s rear end on whether it needs to hook people into the drama the makers are so desperately trying to create.
Let’s just hope his next stint in English-language movie making works better than this dampener of a movie did.
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