In spite of its tag, The Captor – known elsewhere as Stockholm – is neither particularly absurd nor notably true. A seventies period piece from Born to be Blue director Robert Budreau, the film explores the origins of Stockholm syndrome with all the psychological depth of a Liam Neeson B-movie. Whilst a failure to commit to either comic bravura or gruelling tension proves to be Budreau’s fundamental flaw, his casting of Ethan Hawke front and centre saves the film from irredeemable middle of the road ineffectuality.
Hawke stars here as hapless parole convict Jan-Erik Olsson, the main culprit of the August 1973 Normalmstory robbery, whose queer capacity to entrance hostages saw all four latterly refuse to testify against him. Budreau’s film goes further still – naturally – with the addition of a romantic liaison between Olsson and bank clerk turned victim Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace), a married mother of two. Given that we’re never entirely clear what it is that attracts Lind to Olsson – the wig? the Yosemite Sam moustache? the gun in her face? – it’s hard not to feel that Budreau himself can’t quite pin down the syndrome. This is problematic only if one were hoping for a film boasting more critical engagement with the subject and less baseline fun. Which is essentially the long and short of this one. Rapace, so strong in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, does well to convey some semblance of progression for the character but it’s not really there.
What’s lacking here is a sense the tension that the average hostage feature yarns for tension. Instead, The Captor frequently plays more in the realm of comedy than thriller. Unhinged and freewheeling, Hawke revels in the lunacy of his character – ‘You can call me the outlaw’ – throwing himself into the fancy dress box that here comprises period detail. Budreau too feels more confident in his film’s comic brushstrokes; territory in which he has permission to paint broadly and almost excuse flailing attempts to capture Olsson’s violence. And yet, The Captor clings still to the notion that it is not an outright comedy and so never wholly commits to relinquishing shots at bleak straits. Muddying waters thematically is suggestion that ‘nobody’s all bad’ and exploration of Olsson as more naive antihero than villain: ‘I thought they’d cooperate’. Rather than robbing the Kreditbanken, Olsson sought only to secure the release of his criminal idol Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong). Another personal misstep.
There are hints here on a film that perhaps had more to say but these only do to frustrate as evidence that The Captor could have been so much more. There’s the role of masculinity in Bianca’s immediate surroundings for one – her husband Christopher (Thorbjørn Harr) is an inadequate numpty, while her local police chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) quickly switches interest protecting the hostages for simply winning his cat and mouse squabble with Olsson – but also the concern of a police force less honest than the criminals they tackle. The Captor never quite grasps such themes and certainly misses nuance in its exploration of the story. This is, after all, the era of Nixon.
Hawke is, at least, worth the ride. His is an all-in performance, fully committed, and all the better for it. Despite the daft get up and occasionally corny dialogue, Hawke brings an electric quality to the film; initially bumptious, increasingly fraught. There’s panic in those eyes of his but frequent flashes of total, unjustified, self-confidence. Against all odds, Hawke demands engagement. Even he can’t sell the dramatic intensity of The Captor’s intent but there’s emotional integrity in his work, which is genuinely impressive.