Yes, your first assumption is correct – Kidnapping Mr. Heineken details the imprisonment of Amsterdam’s most iconic beer entrepreneur, and even more shocking is that it’s based on a true crime. Back in 1983, Freddy Heineken and his driver Ab Doderer were kidnapped by local scoundrels and then released some three weeks later for 35 million Dutch guilders – the largest ransom ever paid for one individual. As an avid beer drinker and alcohol culture snob, my complete ignorance of the real event is surprising and shameful, but Daniel Alfredson does an amicable job of filling in the blanks. Peter R. de Vries’s source novelization serves as a proper jumping point for writer William Brookfield, as he and Alfredson find a tense balance between historical recreation and cinematic embellishment – either of which can easily sink a true story when handled clumsily.
This is typically the point where I explain a film’s central plot, but it appears I’ve already done so. A crazy group of Dutchmen kidnap one of the most influential icons imaginable, and in an unexpected turn of events, actually get paid the insanely audacious ransom proposition – which comes with a far greater price tag.
Jim Sturgess and Sam Worthington play the two ringleaders, Cor Van Hout (Sturgess) and Willem Holleeder (Worthington), who assemble a team that includes the likes of Ryan Kwanten and Mark van Eeuwen. For the role of Freddy Heineken, the great Sir Anthony Hopkins steps in as the beer-slinging alcohol magnate who finds himself locked away in a baron cell (with David Dencik playing his driver), and so the criminal game is set in motion between two prisoners and their captors.
In no way does Kidnapping Mr. Heineken reinvent the “rich vs. poor” thriller, but there’s enough fluid grace to provide a sound narration for audiences to intently grasp. By jumping right into Cor Van Hout’s insane plan, Brookfield and Alfredson waste little time messing about with Van Hout and Holleeder’s early debauchery – the bare minimum needed to build a tangible backstory. Brief moments of emotional drama break through when connections to Heineken’s factory are revealed, and family ties are established to make each character’s life valuable, but we’re never burdened by a dominating introduction that wastes time detailing every intimate intricacy of Van Hout’s life. A strong emphasis is put on the kidnapping itself, and while this seems like a no-brainer, similar films sometimes get lost in what’s truly important when creating criminal suspense.
Alfredson relies almost completely on the dynamic of his assembled team of actors, and while they’re a foreign hodgepodge of typical petty criminals, there’s enough vitality to make their clashing personalities somewhat understandable. The kidnapping hits on recycled themes of lowly citizens stealing from the rich for their own juicy benefit, once again stating that stealing from the upper crust is alright if you’re in dire financial circumstances.
This, of course, is not true (right?), but some strange part of Kidnapping Mr. Heineken dares to convince us otherwise, albeit through characters who make up a stereotypically rounded gang set for implosion. There’s the wild maverick, the fidgety family man, the charismatic leader, the potential spoil-sport – don’t think for a second that Brookfield backs away from exploiting each and every mechanical personality. Everyone serves a purpose, and their motives are rarely hidden, but in the case of this true story, the sting of predictability doesn’t leave a lasting mark. Hell, we know the ending – what’s there to spoil?
The role of Freddy Heineken requires someone larger than life, and Sir Anthony Hopkins fits the bill rather impeccably. Although Heineken’s screen time is limited to holding-cell interactions with his captors, Hopkins still manages to stoke the fires of uncertainty through a performance that’s both devilish and clever. He plants seeds of doubt inside those weaker-minded kidnappers that eventually sprout into feelings of paranoia, and the way Hopkins delivers his lines with a smile is the biggest treat of all. Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is essentially a test of mental wits that challenges who will break first, and the regal ferocity that Hopkins brings to Mr. Heineken almost resembles Hannibal Lecter – trapped, but never outwitted.
Is Kidnapping Mr. Heineken the next great criminal caper? Hardly. It’s more like drinking an actual bottle of Heineken. Is it the best beer you can pop open? Not even in Amsterdam, given the choice of Amstel. Will it get the job done in the end? Of course. Go drink about seven Heinekens and you’ll have a pretty solid buzz on.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken calls about the same experience. Go ahead – get drunk on the rugged insanity of Sam Worthington, the wolfish intelligence of Anthony Hopkins, and the intriguing true story of the world’s largest ransom payment. You could do worse. Like, “Red Stripe” worse.
In the world of beers, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is a frothy, average lager that doesn't quite overpower your senses, but sometimes, that's exactly what you're looking for.