What kind of bank robber brings a radio and a cribbage board to a heist? He’s Lars, a reckless, possibly stupid and certainly lovable criminal played by Ethan Hawke in “Stockholm.” And he’s the best and most distinctive thing in an otherwise very familiar movie.
“Stockholm” is a heavily fictionalized retelling of a notorious 1973 bank robbery and subsequent hostage situation that took place in the town of the same name. The crime gave rise to the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome,” in which victims supposedly form a bond with their captors. (In real life, the hostages refused to testify against the criminals at trial, and some of them stayed friends their whole lives.)
In this version, Lars bursts through the front doors of a Stockholm bank wearing a Lone Star State leather jacket and a phony wig, brandishing a machine gun. Money is actually something of an afterthought; what he really wants is to have his old partner Gunnar (Mark Strong) sprung from prison.
Lars gets Gunnar released, but both criminals find themselves holed up in the vault with several hostages, including a clerk named Bianca (Noomi Rapace). The cops say they’ll let the robbers escape if they leave the hostages behind. But Lars and Gunnar know they need to take the hostages with them to survive. It’s a standoff.
As they try and figure a way out, Lars and Gunnar bond with their hostages. Bianca and Lars are particularly intrigued by each other, and have some tender moments amid the shouted threats and gunfire. Hawke has a whale of a time playing Lars, who hides deep insecurities beneath his bravado, while Rapace brings dignity to her role.
What helps captors and captives bond is their mutual distaste for the police, especially Police Chief Mattson (Christopher Meyerdahl), who seems content to sacrifice the hostages rather than lose control of the situation. He’s such a loathsome individual that our sympathies go to the shaggy-dog bank robbers Lars and Gunnar, who sing Bob Dylan tunes to entertain their prisoners.
Writer-director Robert Budreau, reteaming with Hawke after the soulful Chet Baker biopic “Born to Be Blue,” doesn’t have as firm a grasp on the material this time around. The tone varies wildly from zany action comedy to character drama and back again, and the actors at times struggle to navigate the turns. And, after getting off to a high-energy start, the film gets bogged down in action-movie clichés familiar to anyone who has watched “Dog Day Afternoon” on late-night TV.
“The crisis has gotten even stranger, almost like an American movie,” a television news reporter stationed outside the bank tells his viewers, a knowing wink at the audience. But while “Stockholm” is a decent and generally diverting movie, its central problem is that it isn’t strange enough.