In “Stockholm,” Ethan Hawke plays a bank robber who prefers to be addressed as “Outlaw.” (Dark Star Pictures)

In “Stockholm,” Ethan Hawke plays a bank robber who prefers to be addressed as “Outlaw.” (Dark Star Pictures)

Loopy ‘Stockholm’ makes you feel for its moronic antihero

Ethan Hawke shines in this film about the bank heist behind the expression “Stockholm Syndrome.”

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

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