If Carlsberg did a feature length film about the abduction and ransom of its entrepreneurial founder it would probably be far superior to Daniel Alfredson’s laborious and entirely non-thrilling depiction of the real life events of Kidnapping Freddy Heineken.
Long story short: a group of friends in Amsterdam in 1982 are denied a bank loan to revive their floundering construction company. The obvious move, then, is to kidnap one of the wealthiest men in the city and make it look like the work of professionals (à la Baader-Meinhof). Cue a hasty and ill-advised preparation and planning montage. The capture of the aforementioned Mr. Heineken goes off without a hitch but what ensues is the infamously protracted ransom period. Tempers fray, things reach boiling point but the money finally arrives. Will they get away with the loot and escape to South America, Asia, anywhere? By the end of the film you really won’t care either way.
The four supposedly local Amsterdam lads – led by Cor Van Hout (Jim Sturgess) – reminded me of the hapless foursome in Guy Ritchie’s Lock Stock but had none of the witty repartee, irony or sarcasm. Do they all have Dutch names? Yes. Does it seem like a group of lads from London (with their token Aussie mate Sam Worthington) went to Amsterdam for a weekend and just sort of stuck around? Yes. Wives and pregnant girlfriends are left at home and seem of little consequence until it’s all too late. At no point did I feel the kind of chemistry or solidarity between this unlikely band of brothers to become engaged in the plot or its characters.
A washed out palette of greys and neutral tones does add to the sense of malaise and social injustice but it’s not backed up by any other element of the film. The source material deserved a better script and so did Anthony Hopkins as Heineken. Seeing him confined in a box room for much of the film drew echoes of The Silence of the Lambs but, despite his best efforts, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The film should have been edge-of-your-seat stuff, exhilarating and tense but the pacing just never gathers any momentum.
A demonstration of how the writing so completely missed the mark was one of the film’s final lines. Upon leaving their Paris safe house, Van Hout and right-hand man Willem Holleeder (Worthington) find themselves in an eerily deserted boulevard; “Something feels wrong” says Van Hout, full of concern. At a point where an audience should have been biting their nails, there was laughter. Sadly, that sums up Kidnapping Freddy Heineken. It is not the film it should have been.
The brevity of the explanation, upon the film’s conclusion, that an anonymous tip-off (yes, that old chestnut) led to the group’s undoing and that after their incarceration Van Hout and Holleeder went on to become the Netherlands’ “Godfathers” of crime is just farcical. It certainly doesn’t say much for the Dutch penitentiary system and, indeed, the criminal competition they faced from others on the outside, that these two were able to achieve such infamy. Maybe they spent their years inside watching Vito and Michael Corleone or reading about Jacques Mesrine?