Stockholm Syndrome Siege Thriller ‘The Captor’ Favours Action Over Character Development

Courtesy of Signature Entertainment

The Captor is a promising film upon first glance. The film stars Ethan Hawke, Mark Strong, and Noomi Rapace and is based on the incident that birthed the well-known psychological condition, Stockholm Syndrome. The story revolves around a six-day siege of the Kreditbanken by Jan-Erik Olsson (Hawke), who held three hostages, one of whom is played by Noomi Rapace. He uses the hostages to negotiate the release of his friend from jail, played by Mark Strong, and the two hold them until their needs are met by the police. Strong’s character is initially brought in as a negotiator to liaise between the police and Olsson but, throughout the film, his motives are not quite evident.

The majority of the film unfolds with this same ambiguity. The beginning and end of the film are clear; the former sets up the events of the siege whilst the latter shows us what the result of it was on the psyche of the hostages. However, considering Stockholm Syndrome is such a well-known and complex condition, the film often side-steps important explanations in order to increase the action. It does not build up to the action either, instead, there is an inorganic transition from action set-pieces to forced dialogue between characters that is supposed to show the development of the relationship between the captors and the hostages. This is never given ample screen time and, therefore, the relationships are never fully fleshed out. If the film was truly successful, it would allow the audience to feel how the hostages did as they began to sympathise with their captors. There is a sense of parody to the film, the realism has been substituted with a stylised re-telling of an event that takes out its most compelling aspect and replaces it with over the top drama and action.

Hawke gives a terrific performance as Olsson, however, the inconsistency of the character diminishes his work. He is initially a petty criminal who we are slowly expected to sympathise with due to his kind treatment of the hostages. But the character change is so sudden and without much build-up. Strong and Rapace hold their own, but neither of them is able to showcase their range, especially Strong whose role is never fully developed. Rapace’s character faces the most development, as she goes from a scared bank employee to developing sympathy for her captors. There are several supporting roles, but their characterisation is never clear. In a similar way, the tone of the film is never consistent. At times, it is a comedy, at times Tarantino-esque and at times a heist film that also involves a love story. The most interesting aspect of the film is the relationship that builds between Hawke and Rapace’s character, however this is never fully explored and is often pushed aside for the action.

The story itself is fascinating but poses many questions. What led Olsson to rob this bank? How did his relationship with Strong’s character develop? How did the relationship between the hostages and the captors develop over their time in the bank vault? What happened to the other two hostages following the siege? What do the actions of the police and the Prime Minister suggest about the political and judicial system in Sweden at the time? An attempt to answer any one of these questions may have led to a more nuanced and eye-opening film than The Captor.

The Captor is out in Cinemas and Digital on June 21st.

by Aleena Augustine

Aleena is a Classics graduate who splits her time between High Wycombe and wherever the latest film or TV show she is bingeing is set. She enjoys watching rom-coms, coming of age films, animations and comedies featuring a strong female ensemble (thank you, Bridesmaids). Her favourite films are Before SunriseInside Out, Zodiac and When Harry Met Sally. You can read her blog, That’s What She Said and more of her writing at Music Bloggery.

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