‘Stockholm’ a thriller with a heart and brain

Ethan Hawke, seen backstage at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards show in 2015, stars in the film “Stockholm.”
Ethan Hawke, seen backstage at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards show in 2015, stars in the film “Stockholm.” Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times

He’s erratic and excitable. She’s calm and practical.

They collide in “Stockholm” when he bursts into a bank in the city of the title, takes her hostage at gunpoint, ignites a media firestorm as the cops surround the bank and gives rise to the term “Stockholm syndrome.”

It’s a botched bank robbery that brings them together, a real-life incident in 1973 that provides the basis for writer-director Robert Budreau’s gripping picture.

He changed their names. The robber’s real name was Jan-Erik Olsson. In the movie he’s Lars Nystrom. Ethan Hawke plays him. His hostage, bank officer Bianca Lind, is a composite figure played by Noomi Rapace.

Budreau took liberties with the details of the nearly week-long standoff with the police that was carried on live television to present a portrait of people in an emotional pressure cooker. In the course of their ordeal, the hostages (there are three in the movie) develop an empathy with their captors (Nystrom, a convict, has an accomplice, another convict Gunnar Sorensson, played by Mark Strong) that leads them to side with the gunmen during negotiations with the authorities. That empathy came to be known as the Stockholm syndrome.

Hawke, who starred in Budreau’s 2015 Chet Baker biopic “Born To Be Blue,” attacks his role with relish.

A Swede, Nystrom is a self-dramatizing powder keg who’s enamored of American pop culture. He likens himself and Sorensson to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He demands that the cops provide him a getaway car that’s the same make and model as the Mustang Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt.” He brings a transistor radio to the heist where the playlist is heavy with Dylan tunes.

“What kind of person doesn’t like Dylan?” he remarks to his terrified hostages.

His volatility and his armaments (a submachine gun, a pistol and a fearsome-looking knife) keep everyone on edge. Yet, besieged, Bianca maintains her composure. Allowed to speak on the phone with her husband, she instructs him to prepare herring for dinner for him and their two children, tells him to get it out of the fridge and unhurriedly gives him the recipe.

“And if I die,” she tells him, “you can live on fish.”

It’s funny. It’s poignant.

She also wants to know what makes Nystrom tick, asking him about himself, getting out of him that he has an ex-wife and a son.

But, “That’s not me. That’s not who I am,” he insists, desperate to make a clean break with his past.

She tells him about her children and brings him to the realization of what’s at stake in his wild gambit when she calmly says, “I would like to see them again.”

Nystrom is impressed.

“You’re unbelievably brave you know.” he tells her.

When Sorensson likens Nystrom to a child, Bianca recognizes that’s so and develops the sympathy, and even romantic feelings for this immature man, that leads her to tell the Swedish prime minister in a phone call to let the robbers leave with the hostages and not try to thwart their escape.

With the robbers and hostages ultimately locked in a vault and with the police drilling through the ceiling to pump in tear gas, Budreau ratchets up the tension.

Thanks to the excellence of its two key performances, “Stockholm” an uncommonly effective thriller, one with a heart and a brain.


3 stars

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace, Mark Strong, Christopher Heyerdahl and Shanti Roney.

Director: Robert Budreau

Running time: 1:31

Rated: R for language and brief violence.