One of the most famous abduction cases in Dutch history is brought to the bigscreen in writer-director Maarten Treurniet’s “The Heineken Kidnapping.” Pic not only casts Rutger Hauer in the role of the beer mogul-turned-abductee but intriguingly contrasts this world-weary, intelligent and filthy-rich entrepreneur with the youngest of his kidnappers. Though it somewhat struggles to keep things character-focused in the second half, Treurniet’s ambitious thriller-drama was a respectable hit at home last fall, and packs enough commercial elements for some niche biz abroad. MPI Media Group guzzled up U.S. rights.
In early 1980s Amsterdam, young and reckless Rem (Reinout Scholten van Aschat) overhears arrangements for a crime and wants in on the job. This creates friction with lowlife Cor (Gijs Naber), the self-appointed leader of a group that also includes the religious Frans (Teun Kuilboer) and funnyman Jan (Korneel Evers). Their proposed kidnapping of brewski baron Alfred Heineken (Hauer) is particularly fitting for Rem, since the boy’s meek father (Ton Kas), who worked at Heineken, was laid off for having become, irony of ironies, an alcoholic.
Though they’re far from professional criminals, the schemers figure out a way to abduct their target and his chauffeur, and lock them up in a storage building in an industrial area of the capital. Though Treurniet, who co-wrote the screenplay with crime novelist Kees van Beijnum, takes ample time to illustrate the planning and execution of the crime, he also builds in enough moments to develop the personalities of polar opposites Heineken and Rem; the supporting characters are more perfunctorily drawn.
The hardened captain of industry is unaccustomed to not getting what he wants and having people tell him what to do, and his world is turned inside out when he realizes he’s powerless regarding these vicious, masked kidnappers. Rem, barely out of his teens, is charged with watching over Heineken, and lets the responsibility go to his head, allowing a sadistic streak to surface. Hauer, in his first substantial Dutch-language perf in years, and relative newcomer Scholten van Aschat (son of “Tirza” thesp Gijs) easily hold their own, and the two have great chemistry, mostly of the magnetic-repulsion kind.
Somewhat surprisingly, the kidnapping and ransom payment constitute only about half of the running time, as Heineken becomes bent on not only getting his millions back, but also exacting revenge. This sets the stage for more thriller-like twists and, as the criminals go abroad, exotic locales. But the carefully built-up idea that Heineken and Rem are both more complex than one would initially expect seems to evaporate in the film’s second hour, during which the more generic action falls back on cookie-cutter motivations rather than anything resembling real human psychology.
Production and costume design, as well as hair and makeup, nail the now-ridiculous early ’80s look without sacrificing dramatic credibility, while the score by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) delivers a full-blown, old-fashioned score that helps drive things along.
For the record, Rem is a composite character, and the pic is prefaced by a statement that “fact and fiction are blended together.” This was likely added to avoid further legal action from the real kidnappers, who were afraid their reputations would be damaged if they were depicted as more violent than the historical record reflects.