Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2019 7:20 pm 
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True story doesn't make good movie

Robert Budreau's 2016 Born to be Blue, a film about jazz trumpeter and lifelong addict Chet Baker, has an off-the-wall quality that kind of works. It slips around in time. Budreau plainly is not concerned about telling a coherent story, but Baker's life was pretty incoherent. He seemed to be going downhill pretty much all his life, and his late-life Skid-Row-bum look is well documented by Bruce Weber in his nostalgic but informative Let's Get Lost* (much more required viewing than Budreau's film), yet Chet made good music down till he fell to his death from an Amsterdam hotel window at fifty-nine. One thing that saves the scattered Born to Be Blue is inspired casting of Ethan Hawke in the lead: Hawke has the kind of ravaged male beauty that suits the late-middle Chet. Maybe casting Hawke in the lead again in Budreau's new film makes sense. Hawke can project the kind of slightly hostile goofiness that seems to suit this protagonist, a man who boldly set out to rob Sweden's biggest bank using an occupation and hostages. This, it turns out, is where the term "Stockholm syndrome" comes from. The event was also the source of Sydney Lumet's 1975 Dog Day Afternoon.

It would be cruel to compare Stockholm to Dog Day Afternoon. Lumet is a brilliant action director. The writer was Frank Pierson, who penned Cool Hand Luke. Lumet's star, Al Pacino, was an explosive, brilliant, virtuosic actor in his prime. It's a flamboyant performance and a suspenseful, highly dramatic film. Everything, in contrast, falls pretty flat in Stockholm. It capitalizes on the ineptness of the robber, who calls himself Kaj Hansson (a well known Swedish crook) but is really Lars Nystrom, a Swede who grew up in the States. Ravaged male beauty isn't quite as apropos here, because this is the testosterone-fueled act of a younger man, and Hawke is now forty-eight. His energy seems a matter of willed theatrical gesture, not a continual glow of inner force. This film seems continually to be losing momentum.

The flatness has the advantage of seeming conceivably more like "real life." No one who revels in the action of Dog Day Afternoon lives long with the illusion that the film accurately mimics actual events. Everything is pleasingly heightened; it's operatic. But in the doldrums that frequently engulf Stockholm one may be prompted to think, Yes, maybe this is something like how it happened. Budreau's screenplay may more closely follow the 1973 Norrmalmstorg Robbery it purports to dramatize, though details are definitely altered. (And, by the way, we never hear a word of Swedish in this whole film set in Sweden's capital.)

Budreau narrows down Lars' actual number of hostages to only three women. The main one, who gets most of the attention, Bianca Lind, is played in big unflattering Seventies glasses with vivid emotionality, yet restraint, by Noomi Rapace in a return to form following some lackluster post "Dragon Tattoo" appearances. Nearly an hour in, SIX people retreat to the inner bank fault. They are Lars, his friend and role model bank robber Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong), whom Lars has forced authorities to release from prison, the two other women, an innocent bystander, and Bianca are all holed up together..

The cannier Gunnar has detected that their conversation in the vault is being miked. They start alternately talking in whispers and, in Lars's case, making loud fake remarks for the benefit of the eavesdroppers. Soon the five are talking - and laughing - among themselves and it's obvious: they share a sense of complicity. The women have forgotten they're on the "other side." Lars has shown that though he's unpredictable, maybe dangerous, he's also nice, and not at all as violent as he'd like the authorities to think he is. The authorities have been nasty, a meanness that has seemed to reflect back at the hostages. These include the obnoxious and bossy police Chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl), even Prime Minister Olaf Palme (Shanti Roney). "Stockholm Syndrome" has been located in more stark hostage or prisoner situations than this since. This of course was a phenomenon that existed before; the big Swedish bank robbery just gave it a name.

The collegiality is obviously inspired here by the Us-vs.Them feeling of the inhabitants of the vault vs. the rest of the world outside. Bianca realizes that her husband isn't that endearing. He's a working stiff. He didn't prepare the fish dish she described to him for their kids, just gave them meat loaf from the freezer because that was easier. She explicitly says that she's more afraid of what the police may do than of the robbers.

This was a global media event (if less global and on fewer media than it would be today), but Bureau's film doesn't convey that as dramatically as Lumet's. One of the greatest problems of this film is its inability either to generate or to describe excitement. Obviously even though its being all in English is suspect, this is a closer approximation of the original event than Lumet's film. This however is a failure of plan, and a failure of tone. It opens with an allusion to "absurdity" of events, but the promise of hilarity is never fulfilled. Nor does Ethan Hawke's character emerge as a man with a dream and a sad love, like Pacino's Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon. While Budreau succeeded with bits and pieces in Born to Be Blue, haphazardness doesn't work here. He shows us a piecemeal version of a real event, but it doesn't make a movie. This is a case where a movie is not too good to be true but too true to be good. There is harmony of the wrong kind. This bank robber didn't quite know what he was doing: this director didn't, either.

Stockholm, 93 mins., debuted at Tribeca Apr. 2018, and opened (limited) in US cinemas 12 Apr. 2019. Reviews have been generally poor: Metascore 54.
*You can watch Let's Get Lost online. I found it free HERE.

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