Stockholm is based on the “absurd but true” story of a 1973 bank heist in Stockholm, Sweden. The event inspired the term “Stockholm Syndrome,” a condition where hostages start to identify closely with their captors as a survival strategy.
When we think about crimes like bank robbery, we’re usually confident about who’s good and bad in the situation. Noble policemen work to free hostages who desperately want to escape their cruel captors. Simple.
Stockholm upends those expectations. Director Robert Budreau balances drama and comic absurdity to explore what the human will to survive, and what morality might look like in criminals. In an early scene, American-raised ex-con Lars Nystrom (Hawke) strolls into a bank brandishing a rifle. He fires into the air and makes his demands. Despite his initial confidence, Lars is far from a cold-hearted professional. He bristles at the accusation that he would shoot someone and pauses to ensure the well-being of his hostages even as he ties them up.
Bianca Lind (Rapace), a young mother who works at the bank immediately notices this softer edge. She approaches Lars with a measured sympathy borne out of her desire to survive. The police, by contrast, arrive on the scene with a standard set of procedures. Fulfill Lars’ demands, but under no circumstances let him leave with the hostages. Those rules feel right, but as the movie progresses, we wonder if the police really have the hostages’ best interests in mind.
Hawke’s big and brash performance is equal parts humorous and humanizing, and Rapace complements his energy with a quiet resilience. When Hawke’s bombast threatens to dominate the film, Rapace brings a fine dramatic touch that balances the film. Their dynamic reflects the aesthetics of the film. Set in Stockholm, Budreau wraps the film in hot-blooded American references (the Alamo, Steve McQueen, and Bob Dylan to name a few), injecting a welcome burst of levity into psychologically dark subject matter.
We got the chance to speak with director Robert Budreau and the film’s stars Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace at its premiere at the MoMA this past Thursday night.
The Knockturnal: When did you first discover this story and decide you wanted to make it into a film?
Robert Budreau: In 2016 I was given this article in the New Yorker that I was really captivated by. It was called “The Bank Drama” and it was an article by this guy written in 1975 following the incident. I had heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, but I didn’t know where it had come from. I just knew Patty Hearst, and so I was just really taken by these mixed up strange characters, this odd subversive love story that evolved, and the idea of the challenge of shooting in a contained space and trying to make it both funny and thrilling at the same time.
The Knockturnal: This isn’t your first collaboration with Ethan Hawke. How did he get involved in this project? What made you think he’d be a really good fit?
Robert Budreau: After [he had] played Chet Baker, this very flawed outlaw type of character, I knew that this would kind of sit right into that world quite well. It was pretty obvious early on to me that Ethan would great for this role.
The Knockturnal: The approach you had to telling the story of this bank heist is really fascinating. The event itself is kind of dark but the trailer has a comic tone. How did you balance those two things and how you decide on the tone and style?
Robert Budreau: Well it was what attracted me to the story in the first place, was this juxtaposition of dark absurdism comedy but also the hostage thriller aspect and the bank heist aspect. And so it was certainly a challenge because Ethan’s character brings a kind of comedy and Noomi’s character kind of brings the dramatic element. It was kind of a dance on the edit and even on the days to try to thread that needle. That was the challenge of the story, and to me, my favorite movies are movies that aren’t just clearly one genre. They kind of mix and match. So that was the goal.
The Knockturnal: What are you excited for audiences to take away from the movie tonight?
Robert Budreau: I hope that they’re entertained and they learn a little something about what humans do to survive and a little something about the Stockholm Syndrome.
The Knockturnal: Can you tell me about the prep you did for the movie? How much did you fill in for the characters yourself? How much did you draw on real-life details?
Noomi Rapace: I grew up in Sweden, so I grew up knowing about this, reading about them, talking about them, so I went back and I re-watched documentaries, listened to a lot of interviews. There’s a lot of interviews that are only in Swedish, so I was translating for Rob – it’s very much my own backyard. I did all that and then I let go of it because it’s not straight after the real events. It’s our version of it. And it’s funny, it’s one of the characters I wanted to play when I became an actress when I was like 16.
Ethan Hawke: Every time you have a performance, you want to prepare and then you want to forget about it and hope it comes out all by itself. You need to figure out where you intersect with the character to make it personal. What I could bring to this table was unique to me playing the part, and how that could open up.
Noomi Rapace: And it was so much you in it. It was very much you. It was very personal.
Stockholm is playing in select theaters now.