One of the notable things about the Stockholm Syndrome is how quickly the phrase entered the language. Maybe the phenomenon always existed, but needed a catchy name.
The phrase was coined after a bizarre 1973 bank robbery in Sweden, where a group of hostages developed sympathy for their kidnappers. Over the course of a six-day ordeal, they felt the authorities were the real threat to their survival, and maintained contact with the robbers even after the siege was over.
A new movie takes the outline of the real story and scrambles around the facts. The syndrome remains the same.
“Stockholm” begins with a bank robber named Lars (Ethan Hawke) storming a large, stately bank. More bungler than crisp professional, Lars wears a cowboy hat, wants to be referred to as “Outlaw,” and sets up a radio to play music (he favors “Nashville Skyline”-era Bob Dylan).
It doesn’t take long to realize writer-director Robert Budreau is playing the situation for black humor. It can hardly be played any other way, because Lars is so overconfident in his criminal abilities.
He has a list of demands for the cold-blooded Stockholm police chief (Christopher Heyerdahl in an impressively icy turn). These include the release of a jailbird pal, Gunnar (Mark Strong, currently doing duty as the villain in “Shazam!”), and a sweet Ford Mustang for a getaway car — the same kind Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt,” if possible.
One of the hostages is Bianca (Noomi Rapace), a mild bank teller who wears 1970s eyeglasses as big as dinner plates. As the stand-off drags on, she develops a bond with Lars, which we infer is at least as maternal as it is romantic — Lars comes across as a misbehaving boy who needs a little motherly love.
Rapace, the star of “Prometheus” and the Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” films, gives a delicate performance. The movie’s jokey style needs something solid at its center, and she provides that; her grave, clear-eyed presence is welcome ballast.
She’s the opposite of Hawke, who goes full goof-off as the kind of showboat who’s frankly enjoying the bank robbery a little too much. But Hawke never tips completely into cartoon territory — in the end, there’s something human about this idiot.
Hawke gave a tremendous performance for director Brudeau in “Born to Be Blue,” as jazzman Chet Baker. “Stockholm” is a much loopier film, with a vibe that surely owes a giant debt to “Dog Day Afternoon,” that heist-gone-kablooey classic that worked a comic-dramatic groove.
“Stockholm” doesn’t reach that level, and you might occasionally wonder whether there’s something just a tad irresponsible about playing this kind of incident for laughs. But the longer it went on, the more I liked it — unless that’s Stockholm Syndrome kicking in.
“Stockholm” (3 stars)
A fictionalized version of the 1973 bank robbery in which hostages bonded with their kidnappers — thus birthing the phrase “Stockholm Syndrome.” The movie doesn’t always nail its comic-dramatic tone, but Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace are strong enough to make it work.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Opening Friday: Galaxy Monroe, Cascade Mall