There are two new thrillers out this weekend in limited release that are well worth your time, and I reviewed them here. Two more indie thrillers hit both theaters and VOD yesterday, but they’re enough of a mixed bag for me to suggest you wait for their inevitable DVD or Netflix release instead. Both are produced and acted well enough, but they share a single trait that keeps them from the recommended list. For everything they do, it’s the things they don’t do that ultimately underwhelms.
Cor van Hout (Jim Sturgess) is a man between jobs. It’s the early ’80s, and the economy in Amsterdam is in the canal leaving him far more motivated towards illicit employment. His friends are in the same boat – Jan (Ryan Kwanten) is good with his hands, Frans (Mark van Eeuwen) is a wild man and Willem (Sam Worthington) is an aggressive go-getter with an existing grudge against local billionaire Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins). The gang decides to kidnap the wealthy beer magnate seeing it as an easy way to $35 million, but things don’t quite go according to plan. No one is surprised.
The true story of Heineken’s kidnapping has hit screens previously, most notably in 2011’s smartly titled The Heineken Kidnapping (starring Rutger Hauer in the title role), and director Daniel Alfredson’s new take on the incident adds nothing to the conversation.
Starting with the positive though, the film looks good in its location and period details. An early chase through the streets of the city that transfers over to a speedboat in the canal is a well-crafted action set piece that gives a much-needed jolt of energy.
So there’s that.
The negatives? The entire film feels entirely run of the mill and provides no compelling reason for its existence as it simply ticks of genre boxes without doing any of the legwork. Alfredson has a track record in that regard having directed the two Swedish sequels to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – both films are competent , but they’re also workmanlike without the benefit of personality or real energy.
The characters are little more than placeholders with few discerning characteristics, and their complete lack of depth means viewers will find little to care about once the trouble starts. Cor is about to become a father, Willem has issues with his own dad and, well, Jan and Frans have nothing going on really. We’re meant to be engaged with their individual plights, but that’s just not in the cards. Worse, we never feel the convincing weight of their friendship. That’s a problem because that fracturing friendship is the story’s focus – one we hear repeated twice in the film as Heineken tells us all that “You can only have friends or money in this world, but not both.”
The other issue with the characters is found in the actors playing them. Sturgess, Worthington and Kwanten are capable supporting players, but none of them have the charisma or wattage to play successful leads. (Sorry Avatar apologists.) Hopkins has that gravitas, but here he’s left to do little more than wisecrack and mumble as he looks lost in his padded cell. This leaves the movie with no performer or character to hold the movie together.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken ticks off the presumably true events behind the real story, but that’s pretty much it. Things happen, the end.
Kidnapping Mr. Heineken is now available on VOD and in limited theatrical release.
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Cohen Media Group
William Garnett (Forest Whitaker) has just been released from prison after serving time for murdering a police officer, but his parole stipulates he remain in the county where the crime was committed. Nearly two decades have passed since the killing, but the local sheriff (Harvey Keitel) is of the belief that Garnett’s punishment wasn’t nearly severe enough. Garnett, who converted to Muslim while in jail, struggles to stay out of trouble while Sheriff Agati maneuvers to send him back. The only one in the ex-con’s corner is his parole officer, Emily Smith (Brenda Blethyn).
While Kidnapping Mr. Heineken fails in part due to the lack of character depth and time spent getting to know the players, director Rachid Bouchareb’s Two Men in Town, a remake of the 1973 French film, takes somewhat of an opposite route.
We spend a lot of time with Garnett, watching as he tries to fit back into society, begin a relationship and hold a job, but we’re constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. That “other shoe” is Sheriff Agati of course whose grudge has grown beyond simple justice to include judgement on the man and his faith. Agati works to trip Garnett up in an effort to find just one thing that will send him back to jail, or even better, that will leave him dead. We know it’s coming, and the film stretches that inevitability across its running time as Garnett is pushed towards a possible breaking point.
We’ve seen this before, and as a thriller the film doesn’t quite deliver what we’ve come to expect. Instead the film is actually far more of an examination of a man and his past self. The two men of the title are Garnett and Agati within the tropes of the genre, but it actually makes more sense to consider that the two men are actually both Garnett – the man he was and the man he is. As the pressures and frustrations mount the question becomes which man will he choose to be?
Just as it doesn’t quite work as a thriller though it also doesn’t manage to completely pull off the character drama. The same principle applies – we’ve seen this journey before – and while it remains engaging throughout it doesn’t really satisfy as its final scenes struggle to balance the two extremes.
Keitel, Blethyn and Luis Guzmán (once again as a sleazy heavy even though no one could possibly feel threatened by the man) do solid enough work here, but Whitaker gives an exceptional performance. He’s noticeably slimmer than he’s been for years, and he still carries himself with weight and real presence. Garnett’s post-prison mantra is all about staying calm and peaceful, but when he breaks Whitaker sells it with sudden power uncoiling from deep within.
Two Men in Town is a thriller on it surface but more of a character piece underneath. It’s Whitaker’s film, and he carries it beautifully even as it becomes clear that the destination itself is rather blurry.
Two Men in Town is now available on VOD and in limited theatrical release.