Written by William Brookfield / Directed by Daniel Alfredson / Starring Sam Worthington, Anthony Hopkins & Jim Sturgess
Freddy Heineken: There are two ways a man can be rich in this world: he can have a lot of money or he can have a lot of friends. But he cannot have both.
Yes, that Heineken. The man behind the famous Dutch brew was once snatched from the street and spent three weeks imprisoned, at the mercy of a group of men looking to score the largest ransom ever paid for a person. They succeeded, and director Daniel Alfredson (THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE) tells the tale with his new film KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN, based on the book by crime reporter Peter R. de Vries.
In 1983, billionaire and beer tycoon Alfred Heineken and his driver Ab Doderer were taken from outside of Heineken’s Amsterdam office by five desperate men seeking relief from their financial woes.
Within the first moments of the film, the viewer realizes that Heineken (Hopkins) is not the one to be pitied for the ensuing 90-something minutes. The story is told entirely from the perspective of the five friends; they’re working-class Joes with family obligations who have fallen on hard times and don’t have two guilders to rub together. Led by Willem Holleeder (Worthington, AVATAR) and Cor Van Hout (Sturgess, ONE DAY), the men begin to hatch their elaborate abduction plan. But unfortunately for them, their eventual success is the beginning of their ultimate downfall.
Alfredson’s decision to film solely from the perspective of the kidnappers necessarily means that there are going to be plot holes. Specifically, the viewer is never let in on the efforts made to rescue Heineken or any police activity for the near-month that he was imprisoned. We don’t see the suffering or stress endured by his family or the discussions that led to the eventual payout of the ransom.
The stress Alfredon does let his audience in on is that of the five criminals as they await the meeting of their demands and the toll this frustration takes on both their willingness to continue with the plan and their entire friendship. They never actually wanted to hurt anyone and as the days pass with seeming silence from Heineken’s camp, their desperation increases.
The choice to present the story in this way has its downside – it would be nice to see what’s happening on the other side and there are moments when you wonder if you might have missed something. It would likely also make for a faster-paced 2 hours than a sometimes draggy 94 minutes.
But it does also make for an interesting perspective, as well as enhanced sympathy for these men. Whether the motives portrayed are historically accurate or not is unclear. The film is, after all, an adaptation of de Vries’ book, which was based largely on interviews with Holleeder and Van Hout – and explains why the viewer is only treated to their side of the story. Obviously perspective is going to sway in their favour.
Don’t go into KIDNAPPING MR. HEINEKEN with the expectation that it’s an intense, action-packed thriller, full of suspense and nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat moments, despite what the trailer may have you believe. It’s not. But that hardly translates to dull. It’s an intriguing story, told with passion by its cast, and Alfredson is able to create enough empathy for the characters to keep things moving, albeit at a slower pace.