Monday 17 June 2019

Ba-ba-bank robbery: "The Captor"

The Captor is a generic retitling of a movie that emerged in the US this past April as Stockholm, and which replays what an opening credit describes as the "absurd but true" events that gave us the phrase "Stockholm syndrome": Sweden's first ever stick-up job on a bank in 1973, overseen by a figure who went by the alias Kaj Hansson. The latter is played here by Ethan Hawke, reuniting with writer-director Robert Budreau, for whom he played Chet Baker in Born to Be Blue. Weirdly, there's an element of crossover between the two films. Hawke's Hansson demonstrates a certain rockstar charisma, leading the taxi driver conveying him to the bank in question to wonder whether he's in town for a music festival; he carries a radio with him alongside his pump-action shotgun, allowing him and his associate (Mark Strong) to caterwaul along with Dylan at one point. (Like the credit said: absurd but true.) Once he's donned wig, leather jacket and American accent (a detail that excuses the non-Swedish casting), we sense him attempting to take control of this stage, both as an actor (demanding the release of his ensemble from prison, and a cool million-krone payday for himself) and as a director of sorts, bellowing instructions at the bank's employees, one of whom, a mousy, married clerk by the name of Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace, with Deirdre Barlow specs) came to, well, love it. Even after Kaj held a gun to her head.

As a film, The Captor suffers from some of the familiar limitations of the medium-budgeted, multiplex-bound international co-production. Though Budreau drops in the occasional shot of crowds massing behind police barriers outside the bank, the bulk of the activity plays out indoors, on a cavernous set that enhances the idea Hansson's idea was a form of theatre but strands the viewer nowhere especially Swedish. Budreau's script, meanwhile, steadfastly refuses to approach this story as anything other than a cray-cray taproom anecdote, generating plenty of laughs but no real insights. There would surely have been scope for a more psychologically searching treatment of these events, some reflection on just how oddly people can act under extreme duress, and you can't help but think the actor who aced the pent-up priest in Paul Schrader's First Reformed and the actress who gave us the original (and best) Lisbeth Salander would have very much been up for that challenge. As it is, the film remains strangely incurious about Bianca, who could have made for a fascinating character study - a settled salarywoman who abandoned some of her usual certainties (not just a husband, but a small child) when faced with the swaggering bad boy Hansson - were the role not so underwritten. Rapace mostly has to signal defences lowering by removing those glasses; we seem to be nearing some breakthrough or revelation just as The Captor fades to black and rolls the closing credits.

The funny thing is: it is a heck of an anecdote told straight, and another demonstration of Hawke's newfound ability to organise a movie around himself. Introduced combing his droopy moustache, his Hansson is a vain narcissist and, as Hawke senses and conveys with great aplomb, a terrible ham: not the Al Pacino of the roughly contemporaneous Dog Day Afternoon, but the Pacino of the ad campaigns that followed it, perpetually yelling and hollering, and looking parodically aggrieved whenever events don't break his way (which is often). This element of human comedy is further punched up whenever the straight-laced chief of police (Christopher Heyerdahl, in the godly lineage of Max von Sydow) descends from the bank's upper floors, where his team have installed themselves, to offer notes or frown at Hanssen like a parent rebuking a wayward child. By the time Kaj is caught screeching "I hate you! I hate you!" at this unflustered figure of authority, you realise the role must have been a tremendous release valve for Hawke after the self-denial of the Schrader movie: for a grown man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, swap in a brat who's been told he can't have the sweets he wants. (Is that why Bianca was so drawn to him, that he was a replacement child who needed mothering?) In order for The Captor to work, we too have to watch this stick-up go comprehensively to pot and still fall on some level for the less-than-mastermind behind it: I wouldn't say I'd lay down my life for Kaj Hansson, but Hawke makes him unpredictable fun to be around.

The Captor opens in selected cinemas this Friday.

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