They were aiming for a lot more than beer money.
In the early 1980s, a ragtag bunch of young hoodlums hatched a plan to kidnap one of the wealthiest people in the Netherlands — none other than Freddy Heineken, CEO of the famous brewing company. The kidnappers received what was then the largest ransom ever paid: some 35 million Dutch gilders (about $17.75 million American).
They spent two years working on the plan. And yet as “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” interprets events, these guys clearly didn’t think things all the way through.
The true story of Freddy Heineken’s kidnapping is fascinating, but “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken” is a disappointingly superficial film in which neither the kidnappers nor their captives are particularly interesting. Although I’ll give points to Anthony Hopkins for practically overacting the paint off the walls in a game attempt to infuse Freddy with some personality.
Jim Sturgess is Cor Van Hout and Sam Worthington is his best mate Willem Holleeder. Their attempts to make it with a legit construction business have failed, and they’re desperate for a big score. As Cor puts it, all they have left to gamble is their liberty, against a prison sentence. So why not bet big?
Rounding out the gang are Jan “Cat” Boellar (Ryan Kwanten from “True Blood”), Frans “Spikes” Meijer (Mark van Euewen) and Martin “Brakes” Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel.) That each of these guys has a nickname is about as deep as it goes with the character development.
For a bunch of scruffs who spend most of their nights tossing back drinks at local pubs, Cor and company are meticulous in the planning of the crime. They rob a bank in order to fund the plan, which includes casing Heineken’s every move for months; building an elaborate, soundproof cell of sorts in a warehouse; using voice-altering devices, and establishing solid alibis for their whereabouts on the night of the kidnapping. The idea is to make it look like a well-known, established terrorist organization has pulled off the crime.
Director Daniel Alfredson (“The Girl Who Played with Fire,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest”) keeps things humming along with a couple of nifty chase scenes (though the pounding score is more intrusive than adrenaline fueling).
But once Freddy is in custody and the waiting game begins, we get far too many familiar kidnapping-movie clichés, including some of the gang having second thoughts; a hothead grabbing a knife and saying he’s had it and it’s time for some bloodshed, and the hostage attempting to play mind games with his captors.
Hopkins plays Heineken as part tyrant, part loon. He starts off by asking for some books to read and a decent bleeping chair to sit in, and then starts making requests about the menu and the music they’re piping into his cell. As time wears on and cabin fever starts to set in, Freddy begins to go bonkers. But we’ve seen Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in a cell telling stories about eating someone’s liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti, and we’re a long way from there with Hopkins as Freddy Heineken chained to a wall and requesting Chinese food and singing “The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone…”
Sturgess has never been one of my favorite actors, but he does a solid job as Cor. Same thing with Worthington. He has a real menacing presence as Willem. As we learn in the epilogue, these two eventually became arguably the biggest crime bosses in the Netherlands.
We also learn about the police investigation in the epilogue. It’s too little far too late. The film never captures the magnitude of the crime — it was a huge media story in the early 1980s — nor does it spend any time exploring law enforcement’s side of the story. The more time we spend in that warehouse with Cor and his not-so-merry band of criminals, the less interesting they become.