MPI // 2011 // 123 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // September 29th, 2012
What they started, he will finish.
This film is a cinematic interpretation of the kidnapping of Alfred Heineken in 1983 and is not intended to be a full and true account of the events.
In 1983, Alfred (Freddy) Heineken (Rutger Hauer, Black Butterflies), president of the Dutch brewing company and grandson of the famous beer's founder, was kidnapped and held for ransom. After 35 million Dutch guilders were paid, police rescued Freddy and his chauffeur. Their abductors went into hiding, two of them in France where legal arguments over extradition treaties stalled their appointment with justice. Shaken by his ordeal, Freddy used his considerable financial and political power to exact revenge on his former captors.
Director Maarten Treurniet's true-crime thriller takes some liberties with the historical facts and invents composite characters. Since this sensational case is mostly unknown or forgotten outside of the Netherlands, the deviations from facts won't be an issue for most viewers. The creative changes result in a mostly satisfying movie with tight plot construction and a focus on a handful of well-developed characters. If only crime, international justice, and revenge could be this tidy in real life.
The central character (for the first half of the movie) is Rem (Reinout Scholten van Aschat), an angry young man looking for a way out of poverty. When he overhears his brother-in-law Cor (Gijs Naber) and associates plotting criminal schemes, Rem wants in on the action. Rem suggests Freddy Heineken for a kidnap and ransom job because he blames the brewery president for his dad's failing health. His dad's alcoholism was a consequence of his long years of service as the company's salesman.
Rem would typically be the viewer's surrogate into this world, playing the part of the new member of the gang who is drawn deeper and deeper into the worsening situation. However, the film quite daringly explores Rem's darker impulses colored by his deep resentment over the class divide. Rem views his participation in the kidnapping not as a moral quagmire but a moneymaking opportunity. When he's tasked with monitoring Freddy's cell, Rem seems to enjoy the power he holds over the rich man and cruelly tests his psychological resolve. To counter his mean streak, we have scenes where Rem tries to win the affections of a girl but even in these moments he's uncomfortable obnoxious. He is one of the most unlikable but well-intentioned protagonists I've seen in recent movies and that certainly affected my perspective on the second half of the movie.
Rutger Hauer dominates the movie with his confident presence and skillful performance. We see him first through the eyes of his abductors so he does appear cold and untouchable. Yet his thoughtful portrayal of a powerful man whose very foundations of personal security are obliterated really show in moments where he carefully keeps his panic at bay while in a makeshift cell and later when he must hide his nervousness in public. Freddy is a hard man nearly broken and he softens as he reexamines his legacy as a businessman and husband.
The second half of the movie deals with Freddy's efforts to bring his abductors to justice. The movie picks up steam in this section but I suspect this is where the story plays fast and loose with historical fact. The script also drops in some elements at this point that aren't properly followed up.
The picture quality on this DVD release is very good. There is consistently sharp standard definition detail and no noticeable image problems. The color range is pleasingly dynamic from the cold monotone of the Amsterdam hideout to the vibrantly sunny beaches of Saint Martin. The surround audio mix has strong dialogue presentation at the front and well placed environmental effects in the background. Composer Tom Holkenborg's music drives the escalating action and at times reminded me of Hans Zimmer's thunderous contributions on the films of Christopher Nolan. Overall, it is a very satisfying audio-visual presentation for the movie.
The DVD offers two extras. The 20-minute making-of featurette has interviews with the director and stars. It offers some more information on the real event and the development of the movie. The trailer is also included.
The movie's focus on the characters, Rem and Freddy in particular, is effective for this economical crime thriller. We are immersed in the kidnappers' planning and experience the isolation and psychological torment of the victim. However, the absence of the police and outside world feels odd. There aren't enough cues to how the rest of the country is reacting to the kidnapping. It's hard to read whether the public is sympathetic to Freddy's plight. When the cops are suddenly hot on the trail of the kidnappers, it's a tense development but how they arrived there is unexplained.
Considering the international scope and drawn out road to justice of the real affair, perhaps The Heineken Kidnapping is a too-neat version of events. Still, it's an economical crime story with very strong performances. The movie is quite daring in its decision to tell the story without any obviously likeable characters but the effort pays off. The situation is based on a real event but the characters ultimately stand in as representatives of a class war. The final meeting between Freddy and Rem feels like a stalemate as the clout of the rich and the festering resentment of the poor remain equally threatening.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Dutch)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated