Ever since “Dog Day Afternoon” hit theaters in 1975, it has been the standard bearer against which all other hostage thrillers have been judged against, a comparison that actually works in the favor of “Stockholm,” Robert Budreau’s crafty reconstruction of a bizarre bank robbery in Sweden that occurred just after the real life events depicted in the Sidney Lumet classic. Although no direct comparison is ever made, one of the biggest luaghs in “Stockholm” arrives when a newscaster suggests he’s watching a scene “almost like an American movie,” and in the cleaner, generally more polite confines of Swedish society where such flagrant crime is less of an occurrence, Budreau lives up to the bold – and cheeky – proclamation at the film’s start that “Stockholm” is “based on an absurd but true story.”
The first indication something might be up is upon learning that the brash cowboy (Ethan Hawke) who enters the (Kinderbanken), flailing around a machine gun at the start of “Stockholm” isn’t intending to rob it at all, instead taking hostages to secure the release of Gunnar Sorenson (Mark Strong), a fellow con currently in the pen. Asking authorities to call him “The Outlaw” and pointing to the Texas flag stitched into the back of his leather jacket as he urges them to “Remember the Alamo,” Swedish authorities are puzzled by this gunslinger who is purposefully vague about who he is, but has a specific escape plan involving a Mustang 305, the same car Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt.” He dismisses all but two of people in the bank that are there when he arrives, Bianca (Noomi Rapace) and Klara (Bea Santos), both employees who can give him the ins and outs of the building, and it doesn’t take long before he’s joined by Gunnar, yet he has to rethink things after the Prime Minister insists that he can’t leave the bank with the hostages in tow, all but assuring his eventual surrender.
While the outlaw’s immediate regret is not bringing a 12-string for Gunnar to entertain the ladies with upon finding out they’ll be spending the night, “Stockholm” becomes engrossing in how it uses the intensity of its scenario to expose the hidden fears of an entire group of people who are both far savvier and considerably less certain in their convictions than they appear at first. From the dapper police chief (Christopher Heyerdahl) who at first seems overmatched and bewildered by the outlaw’s conduct to Bianca, who finds the criminal more attentive to her needs than her husband who is caught having fallen asleep after learning of this fiasco, the ensemble of “Stockholm” conspire to keep its crackling energy up and are given roles that showcase their tremendous versatility. Hawke, in particular, excels in his second collaboration with Budreau, following his tender turn as Chet Baker in “Born to Be Blue” with a performance that unexpectedly becomes just as deep in the midst of an unabashed popcorn movie.
Budreau crafts “Stockholm” with a reserve and sense of careful composition indicative of the civil veneer that the outlaw so ruthlessly pierces, but the sly fun it has is in line with a film that rewards patience, and although it’s an open question whether that approach will pay off for its central antiheroes, it does so in spades for audiences.
“Stockholm” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will next play at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 20th at 8:30 pm at the Regal Battery Park and April 23rd at 4 pm at the Cinepolis Chelsea and April 29th at SVA Theater 1 at 5 pm.