Ethan Hawke in a scene from 'Stockholm.' (Filmfinity)
Ethan Hawke in a scene from 'Stockholm.' (Filmfinity)


Based on the true story that gave rise to the psychological condition known as Stockholm Syndrome in the early ‘70s, an American criminal doesn’t so much rob as hole up in Sweden’s biggest bank by taking hostage a handful of its employees, demanding a million dollars, the immediate release of notorious Swedish bank robber, Gunnar Sorensson, and safe passage for the both of them out of the country. As the situation roles on, it becomes clear that not all is quite as it seems – and that’s before one of the hostages, Bianca Lind, starts to form an increasingly tight bond with her captor.


Stockholm – or Captor, as it is boringly known in some territories – is one odd duck of a film. The story itself is a textbook example of "truth being stranger than fiction", especially as the more outlandish elements of the plot are not the fictional liberties that writer/ director, Robert Budreau, takes with the source material but the source material itself. Stockholm syndrome is peculiar enough on its own, but the infamous hostage situation that gave rise to it is even more bizarre, which is, no doubt, why Budreau has doubled down on the strangeness in his own depiction of that fateful August day in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. 

The cautiousness inherent in the decision to change the names of everyone involved in the real-life case for the film is certainly not on evidence in the film itself. Here we have a true story of crime, violence and the rise of a disturbing new psychological disorder but this is no gritty true-crime film, let alone a particularly deep psychological study of a woman falling in love with the man holding a gun on her for three days straight.

Instead, Budreau has created something that bounces with abandon from screwball romantic-comedy to tense thriller to breezily entertaining heist flick, with just enough pathos thrown in to ensure that we do actually care about these characters, both “good” and “evil”. And, oh yes, how many true-crime stories can you think of where you’re being asked to earnestly root for the “bad” guys over the nominal “good” guys? Such twisted loyalties are part and parcel of spaghetti westerns but in true-crime films of events that happened relatively recently? Not so much, I’d wager.

Does it work? Honestly, not entirely. It is, at times, a bit too fatuous for its own good. It has little of the emotional power or stylishness of something like the recent American Animals, which really took the whole “weird true-crime” thing to the highest levels imaginable. It drags a bit at times and, however much fun it may be pin-balling from one genre to another and one tone to another, it can get a bit exhausting after a while. It’s a very brisk 93-minutes, including credits, but its pacing could be better.  

Still, these qualms aside, Stockholm does work far more than you might think, and it is its very off-kilterness and, indeed, even many of its flaws that give the film a certain distinctiveness in a genre that can all too often be both extremely dour and not often all that memorable. It also prevents it from being just a rehash of Dog Day Afternoon, which is not massively different in terms of premise. Plus, it’s quite a neat trick for a movie about Stockholm Syndrome to actually get the audience to form an unreasonable attachment to someone who is, for all intents and purposes, the villain over policemen who are, when you get right down to it, trying to save lives and stop a pair of armed-criminals from escaping justice.  

The film’s true ace in the hole, though – along with a cracking soundtrack of mostly obscure Bob Dylan tracks from the period – is Ethan Hawke as our mysterious, somewhat indiscernible but unflappably charming (in an endearingly clumsy sort of way) anti-hero. Hawke is a reliably great actor with an uncanny ability to pick out interesting, if not always successful, projects and, despite playing a gun-toting, oafish, brashly American criminal, he has seldom been more likeable, sympathetic and just plain fun than he is here. He is working with a solidly witty script and a director who knows to step back and let the characters and actors shine – as well as with a top-notch supporting cast, including typically excellent turns from Noomi Rapace and Mark Strong – but it is his performance above all else that anchors the film and stops it from making good of its constant threat to fly off its own axis.

And, for all of its faults, that’s more than reason enough to recommend this odd little film to even the most mainstream of audiences.