There’s a moment in the movie “Stockholm” when the protagonist, a man named Lars (Ethan Hawke), introduces a friend of his (Mark Strong) to a woman named Bianca (Noomi Rapace) and her female co-worker, as if they’re all out on a double date. But here’s the thing: The two men are, in fact, bank robbers, and the two women their hostages. Such is the movie’s strange tone, which skews more toward a rom-com than a crime drama.
Written and directed by Robert Budreau, “Stockholm” is billed as the “absurd but true” story of the 1973 crime that introduced the world to Stockholm syndrome, the psychological phenomenon in which a captive forms a bond with his or her captor. Set in the Swedish capital, the story — which sounds like the plot of an early Quentin Tarantino movie — centers on an attempted heist, hatched by a sympathetic criminal (Hawke) who sings pop songs during the siege. For the most part, Budreau pulls off an entertaining dramatization of events, thanks largely to his charismatic lead.
It’s not the first time Hawke and Budreau have worked together. In the filmmaker’s “Born to Be Blue” (2015), the actor portrayed the troubled jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. But Hawke has a lot more fun here, playing a Swedish-born, Texas-raised outlaw who swaggers his way into a bank vault and, inevitably, his victim’s arms. (In some ways, Lars feels like the stylistic cousin of Jolly the Pimp, Hawke’s scenery-chewing role in the otherwise lifeless “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”) Yet “Stockholm” isn’t just a romp; when Lars loses control of the situation, the worry lines in Hawke’s forehead reveal a scared man, the once boyish actor bringing depth to a character who could have been just a cartoon.
Despite flashes of violence, “Stockholm” plays like a comedy. When we first meet the chief of police (Christopher Heyerdahl), he’s wearing a novelty lobster bib for a photo shoot. Reciting his demands over the phone, Lars pauses to sing Bob Dylan lyrics. (During the 1973 incident, the real robber reportedly sang “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” This doesn’t appear in the film, probably because it’s so strange it would be taken for fiction.)
Rapace, playing the woman who falls for her captor, nicely pulls off the role’s dry humor, as when Bianca gives her husband — who’s expecting to pick her up from work — detailed instructions for reheating leftovers. But her husband doesn’t pay attention, heating up meatloaf instead of fish. (The film suggests this may be why Bianca swoons for the thief.) Unfortunately, Rapace’s character is otherwise underwritten, with the bank teller coming off like a manic pixie — with a strange, fawning infatuation instead of mania. Other roles are similarly thin.
Bianca articulates the film’s theme when she tells her husband, in defense of Lars, “Nobody’s all bad.” But “Stockholm” is a bit too on the nose in its effort to explain the psychological mechanism at its center. Moviegoers may be happy to hum along with the jaunty soundtrack — and maybe even sympathize with the movie’s unlikely couple — but it’s unlikely to hold anyone entirely in its thrall.
R. At AMC’s Hoffman Center 22. Contains strong language, sexual situations and brief violence. 92 minutes.