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Ever wondered where the term “Stockholm Syndrome” comes from? Robert Budreau’s newest flick takes us to the event that coined the phrase.


Mark Strong, Noomi Rapace, and Ethan Hawke in ‘Stockholm.’ // Credit: Jan Thijs / Smith Global Media / Dark Star Pictures

The term “Stockholm Syndrome” occupies such a curious space in our lexicon. We all know and understand the interdependent co-enabling relationship it defines, but I, for one, have never questioned when and how the term was birthed onto the cultural landscape.

In Stockholm, we’re given an answer. Based on writer-director Robert Budreau’s interpretation of a story from The New Yorker about a 1973 bank heist and hostage situation in Stockholm, Sweden, the term’s origin flounders in absurdity and cross-cultural stereotypes that should have sunk any hopes of ever achieving social and psychological relevance.

This is not to take away from Budreau’s storytelling. As a fan of his 2015 festival feature Born to Be Blue, about a period in the life iconic Jazz man Chet Baker, I certainly went into Stockholm open to his exploration of this signature syndrome. And it doesn’t hurt that Stockholm allows him to extend a creative partnership with Ethan Hawke (who wonderfully embodied the rich and wounded grace of Baker in Born to Be Blue).

Hawke has entered a noteworthy phase in his long career where the roles he’s choosing are in synchronicity with this particular point in his life. He has moved into a full-on adult moment, just shy of what might be considered middle age, which means he hasn’t quite left behind the possibility of portraying a character suffering from arrested development. But he can do so and show us just how ludicrous the person is while still hanging onto a sense of humanity.

This is, in fact, what he does in Stockholm. His character — who initially dubs himself “The Outlaw” when he enters into negotiations with the police after taking over a bank in the titular city — has a long-haired wig plastered on his head held in place with a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a leather jacket with Texas flag on the back. His duffel bag of equipment for the job includes an automatic weapon and a radio, so he can listen to tunes that calm the less than savage beast lurking within him. The Outlaw fashions himself as a poet — he loves Bob Dylan songs —and a man living in a world losing touch with its principles. Set in the early 1970s, he’s a cartoonish wannabe hippie with a gun and a grin playing games that aren’t as fun or funny as he hopes they are.

His (and the film’s) saving grace is Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace), a bank employee with a level head and a deeply buried romantic spirit. From the moment he brandishes his weapon, Lind expertly makes all the right moves. She trips the alarm, refuses to back down despite obvious fear, and becomes the focal point of The Outlaw’s attention, which allows the bank customers and most of the other employees to flee. The Outlaw has little need for a large contingent of hostages; he’s barely able to keep himself in check.

When he demands the release of Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) — a master bank robber and his partner-in-crime — it soon becomes clear that he has plans for more than a bank heist. In every exchange with the police, The Outlaw seems to wing it, asking for things as they pop into his scatter-brained head. He wants a getaway car like the one Steve McQueen drives, money ($1 million U.S. dollars, not easy to get and spend during a getaway in Sweden), and a constantly fluctuating array of supplies. It’s obvious the guy walked in without much of a plan, but he definitely has lady luck on his side.

Lind is his charm. Rapace aids and abets Hawke and Budreau as best she can. There’s a lovely and quite erotic exchange between Rapace and Hawke as he explains a plan and helps her slide into a bulletproof vest. That delineates what occurs between captors and hostages once lines are blurred, and Rapace shows how hostages can usurp control with nothing more than an unwavering gaze.

If only the rest of Stockholm had risen to this level. The narrative mimics the ragtag approach of its central figure, and while Hawke does his best to keep him engaging, we don’t truly get the sense that he’s worth spending time with or saving. Ironically, Stockholm fails to live up to the syndrome it inspired. (In theaters) Grade: C-