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film review

Anthony Hopkins as Freddy Heineken in Kidnapping Mr. Heineken.

The sense of relief felt when the billionaire brewing magnate Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins) sighs "It's finished" in the home stretch of Daniel Aldfreson's Kidnapping Mr. Heineken may not be entirely empathetic. Yes, the man has endured a prolonged ordeal at the hands of a gang of Amsterdam criminals – Willem Holleeder (Sam Worthington), Cor Van Hout (Jim Sturgess), Jan (Cat) Boellard (Ryan Kwanten) and Martin (Brakes) Erkamps (Thomas Cocquerel) – but you might just be glad the movie's almost over.

Not that it hasn't been nice seeing Hopkins, the big screen's most bankable snob serial killer, back in lockup and taunting his captors again. Every time the door opens in his elaborately concealed underground cell – modelled, with no small sense of misplaced pride among the gang, after Anne Frank's hideaway – and Hopkins commences to purring about the bad food and lousy music his charges provide, the movie lifts briefly from its strictly pro forma lethargy into something hinting at the sour class-conscious comedy it might have been, only to revert to dull business as usual every time the door clicks closed again.

The problem with Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, which is the second movie in four years about the sensational 1983 crime (the other was a Dutch production with Rutger Hauer as the dapper snatchee), is that it follows the kidnappers out the door instead of sticking with the coolly composed man behind it. For not only is Hopkins's Freddy incomparably more charismatic than any of his captors, he's the only one who, weirdly enough, seems to be enjoying the ordeal. But maybe that's simply a matter of pay scale.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Alfredson's movie is a dull, under-motivated muddle of a "thriller," a movie that can't seem to muster much enthusiasm for its own procedural dynamics, let alone our engagement with them. After establishing motivation by cursorily nodding to the recessionary hard times and domestic traumas besetting our perpetrators – who, in an unhelpful development, all speak in various working-class English accents, suggesting nothing so much as tourists stranded after a weekend binge – the movie proceeds to sidestep virtually everything that might have lent it more dramatic and emotional juice. The perps themselves come across as little more than impetuous, macho-posturing louts in period hairstyles; the two-year planning for the crime is condensed to a whimsical montage; the grab itself feels as if it's a grocery run; and before you know it, "it's over." Then you're told by on-screen titles that everybody got caught and two of the guys became "the Godfathers of the Netherlands," which is to say, another reminder that you're not watching the movie you might wish you were.

For a movie about one of the most audacious and (temporarily, anyway) successful abductions in criminal history, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken displays an often breathtaking lack of interest in both the intricate technical minutiae of what made such a feat possible or of the interpersonal dynamics between men so suddenly thrust from the ignored margins of the socioeconomic stream to the dead centre of global attention. For all that seems to distinguish their sudden predicament as the most wanted men in the world, the guys in this movie might as well have been snatching poodles in Beverly Hills.

For a period during the actual ordeal itself, it was speculated whether the Heineken kidnappers might be late entrants into the radical left-wing terrorist abduction sweepstakes that had shaken Europe in the previous decade. Indeed, even Freddy himself asks his masked captor if the gang might be Baader-Meinhof or "Red Brigades." That they're not, that they're only in it for the money and nothing else, might also have been an avenue of satirical political potential (and barbed contemporary relevance) worth exploring. But, in a curious rush to go nowhere fast, this movie only raises these flags long enough to let them fly by.