Kidnapping Mr. Heineken was directed by Daniel Alfredson (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Blackway), written by William Brookfield (Wonderwell, Milk), who adapts from a book by Peter R. De Vries, and stars Jim Sturgess (Cloud Atlas, Geostorm), Sam Worthington (The Titan, The Hunter’s Prayer), Ryan Kwanten (2067, Hurricane Heist), Mark van Eeuwen (The Forgotten Battle, Redbad), Thomas Cocquerel (Alive, In Like Flynn), Anthony Hopkins (The Father, Zero Contact) and David Dencik (No Time to Die, Quick). It’s about the eponymous kidnapping of Freddy Heineken and the troubles the kidnappers had dealing with the immediate aftermath.
The Plot: Considering that in 1983, the titular crime and its ransom of $10 million (USD) was the highest ever paid, “Heineken” starts with a leg up over the competition. Alfredson doesn’t choose the most interesting things to focus on with consistency but there’s enough good stuff to make the more workmanlike moments digestible.
After they’ve been shafted by the cops and the economy, Cor (Sturgess) pitches his friends Willem (Worthington), Jan (Kwanten) and Frans (van Eeuwen) on a kidnapping potentially worth 35 million Dutch Guilders: Kidnap Freddy Heineken (Hopkins). But first, they have to rob a bank for the funds to even think about it, so they do, and it’s all handled well, if not spectacularly. Everything adds up and they enlist Martin (Cocquerel), another friend from their previous venture, and ambush Freddy and take him to a modified boathouse to wait until they can demand money. Alfredson doesn’t offer much besides the basics and while those basics are enjoyable fare, they don’t set apart what should be an electric story.
It’s not over after the kidnapping though, the men have to wait, wait, and wait some more as the police seem uninterested in paying for the release of Freddy and Ab (Dencik), his driver. It’s a failing of Kidnapping Mr. Heineken that it doesn’t examine the other side as there was more than enough room to do so. They argue amongst each other and the movie stalls for a while until they figure out what to do while verbally sparring with Heineken and debating how long is too long without violence until they get their money and face the consequences.
The plot itself is good if a little stringy at times. No holes exist (that I saw anyway) either. It’s got some effective moments but adds little to the cinematic world.
The Characters: Brookfield gives archetype instead of character with some brief exceptions. Justification is handed to all of the kidnappers immediately, but the actors are left with little to work with in their own quest to make these men, who’ve been turned into characters, back into real people.
All of them are suffering from the same affliction: being broke. Their initial reaction to attempting to take out a bank loan is the most personality we get for any of them. Since they owned a building now taken over by squatters, they literally kick them all out to retake the property. This is perhaps the largest offering of character in Kidnapping Mr. Heineken and it comes less than 10 minutes in.
Cor is the head, coming up with the structure of the scheme for the sake of his pregnant girlfriend who happens to be Willem’s sister. That fact never comes into play, but it is a curious one. He’s surprisingly the most reluctant of the group to get blood on his hands.
Some stress is shown in his relationship with his girlfriend, but not enough to cause attachment. Willem is the hothead, willing to do the most dangerous tasks in the series of events and has a somewhat direct link to Heineken in the form of his father but that’s all that’s given. Jan, Frans and Martin are all blanks though, and not a single iota of development or examination is given.
Freddy is given something a little more to understand. He’s not made unlikeable by any stretch, but he is definitely spoiled, asking for reading glasses, a lot of books to read, and Chinese bang-bang chicken with regularity. He’s fun to watch as he slips into the kidnapper’s minds but is underwritten like everyone else in Kidnapping Mr. Heineken.
The Crime: Easily the most interesting element of Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is the crime. Several steps of preparation are shown, as is the antsy-ness of everyone involved when the movie could’ve taken the easy way out and started with Freddy’s kidnapping itself.
Alfredson makes it clear that the men are desperate and untrained, but not unintelligent. The preparation phase is arguably the more interesting of the two halves of Kidnapping Mr. Heineken’s runtime as we see them obtain weaponry from the second World War, scout Freddy’s house, build rooms specifically for Freddy and a possible plus one, and soundproof the whole thing. Planning phases aren’t at all uncommon in crime movies but this one serves up enough different steps to make it good entertainment until the job is ready to be done.
Once the men obtain their hostages though, the movie loses its momentum and offers significantly less insight into the whole situation than it should. Not a single scene is devoted to the investigation, not that the movie couldn’t have worked without that, but since the only substitution for it is a rotating cast of masked men delivering necessities to their captors, it should’ve been present. Kidnapping Mr. Heineken shows the passage of time and the eventual delivery of the money, after which the movie starts to pick back up for its last act.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken has a solid crime element for a lot of its runtime but doesn’t do enough with the back and forth and shows even less of psychological damage being done; with a few brief exceptions. It’s entertaining but not riveting.
The Technics: Alfredson toys with style in the first 20 minutes or so, with some light comedy and a vivid sense of the men’s personalities but eventually backs off to observe a situation that deserved an angle of sorts.
Style or something like it would’ve been preferable as Alfredson’s direction is rather pedestrian and the characters are just as bland for the most part. Mixed with a dull-looking colour palette (that’s more related to the limited locations) and stock cinematography that’s too tepid to get the blood rushing, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken isn’t bad in the technical sense, but it is disappointing.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken has a lot of unique parts, from its true story, untested characters, and criminal planning; but it doesn’t gift the actors characters to play (everyone here is good but yearning for more) and lacks that spark that all great crime movies have. It’s a good watch but nothing special.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital platforms.