‘Stockholm’ and ‘Red Joan’

Sophie Cookson in Red Joan (2018)

“STOCKHOLM” (2018)

“Well, Gayle, by this time the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki syndrome.”

“As in Helsinki, Sweden.” — comically inaccurate exchange between an author and TV anchors in the original “Die Hard”

“Stockholm syndrome” is a media-friendly catchall term invoked over the last five decades to describe any number of high-profile crimes in which captor and captive have formed an irrational, logic-defying bond.

Writer-director Robert Budreau’s alternately farcical and intense and tragi-comic “Stockholm” is based on the “absurd-but-true story” (as we’re told in the opening title card) of the 1973 bank heist and hostage crisis that gave rise to that term, which to this day is the subject of much debate and interpretation — and misuse. (When it comes to child victims such as Jaycee Dugard, abducted at 11 and held in captivity for EIGHTEEN YEARS, articles invoking the term “Stockholm syndrome” to explain why Jacyee was sympathetic to her captors come across as obscenely lazy and simplistic.)

“Stockholm” is based on a 1974 New Yorker article by Daniel Lang about the real-life bank heist of a central Stockholm bank, but writer-director Budreau exercises liberal poetic license in his telling of the tale, starting with the reinterpretation of the colorful, unpredictable, musically inclined Swedish bank robber Jan-Erik Olsson as a colorful, unpredictable, musically inclined AMERICAN bank robber named Lars, who is played by Ethan Hawke (who previously starred in Budreau’s Chet Baker biopic, “Born to Be Blue.”)

Donning a ridiculous rocker-wig, sporting a racing jacket, cowboy hat and boots, emboldened by the handful of pills he’s just swallowed, Lars storms into a Stockholm bank, announces his presence with a burst of gunfire into the ceiling and says this is a robbery, and you better take it seriously!

A woman falls to the floor. Someone asks if she’s been shot. Lars says no, she hasn’t been shot, it’s probably a muscle cramp, so can someone get her a banana or something!

Ah. So, Lars is a clown. But he’s also a dangerous clown, what with his manic intensity, and the weapons he’s wielding, and his penchant for cinematic drama, whether he’s playing Bob Dylan on the portable stereo or telling the cops he wants a 1968 Mustang Fastback as his getaway vehicle — the same car Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt.”

Lars allows a dozen or so customers to leave, but he takes a couple of employees hostage, most notably Bianca (Noomi Rapace), who is married with two children. (In one of the most touching scenes in the film, Bianca tries to walk her husband through the process of making a fish dinner for their two children. If she dies, says Bianca, they’ll be able to survive on fish.)

Mark Strong excels as Gunnar, a legendary bank robber who is released from prison and allowed to join his old pal Lars on the scene, per Lars’ demand. Christopher Heyerdahl is terrific as the obligatory no-nonsense police chief who will put up with only so many hijinks from Lars and the hostages, who are becoming increasingly sympathetic to Lars, before taking drastic measures.

Budreau delivers a low-key version of “Dog Day Afternoon.” This is no deep dive into the psychological underpinnings of why a hostage would undergo a radical shift in loyalties over the span of a few days, to the point where she’d fall in love with a bank robber.

But if you’re going to skim along the surface of a story such as this, you’d be hard-pressed to cast someone better-suited to the role of the clearly doomed but still irresistible charmer than Ethan Hawke.

[Abner: put the two images next to each other. I’ve indicated which is left and which is right.]

“Red Joan” (2018)

Judi Dench in Red Joan (2018)

You’d think a based-on-a-true-story film starring the great Judi Dench as a proper British matron accused of being a longtime spy for the Russians would be a recipe for a crackling good thriller.

“Red Joan” will prove you wrong at every turn.

It’s almost fascinating how stultifying this movie is, given the premise and the above-the-title star, but “Red Joan” is a soapy, clumsy, maddeningly simplistic mess.

Also, most of Dame Judi’s scenes are quick and a criminal waste of her talent, as the bulk of the story takes place in flashback, with Sophie Cookson as the true lead, playing the young Joan.

Ms. Cookson is a capable actress. She is not Judi Dench.

“Red Joan” is based on a novel inspired by the life of Melita Norwood, who was a British civil servant from 1937 to 1977 — and a KGB intelligence source the entire time.

Whatever the realities of Norwood’s life, it must have been more eventful and harrowing and complex than this corny, shallow and sometimes sexist depiction of events, in which Joan is often portrayed as a starry-eyed fool who is so blinded by love, she commits insanely stupid and shortsighted acts of treason against her country.

The story opens with the elderly and utterly respectable Joan (Dench) opening her door one day to find police officers telling her she’s being charged with treason for leaking classified documents to the Russians.

What! That’s crazy!

Except …

“There’s a file on you,” she’s told, “starting in 1938, when you went to Cambridge University.”

Cue the first of many, many flashback sequences, which take up 10 or 15 minutes of screen time before we return to a quick glimpse of Dame Judi, who utters a line or two, and then flutters her eyes in one direction or another, indicating she’s about to have another memory and we’re going to return to the past.

In the late 1930s, young Joan is an innocent studying physics at Cambridge when she finds herself dazzled by the sophisticated Sonya (Tereza Srbova), who introduces her to the dashing Leo (Tom Hughes), a German Jew and a communist organizer who actually calls Joan “my little comrade” when he kisses her before they tumble into bed.

Ooh, you seductive and dastardly Red Devil!

Back to Dame Judi, who confirms to authorities she attended a few meetings, but it was the “in” thing to do at the time, and she never took it seriously.

Old Red Joan’s eyes dart about. Flashback time!

By 1941, Joan has a job with the British government affording her access to their top-secret efforts to build a bomb at least as quickly as the Americans, and before the Germans can do it.

Once in a while, Leo shows up and Joan swoons, what with Leo’s fantastically floppy hair and his bedroom eyes and his big talk. She also enters into another, equally stupid love affair, in between making big speeches to rooms filled with men.

“(Dropping an atomic bomb) will mean the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people!” says Joan.

“Don’t think like that,” says her boss. “We’re scientists. Leave the politics out of it.”

Lot of help he is.

And then we’re back to the future, with old Joan steadfastly maintaining her innocence, even though we see in the flashback scenes she WAS a spy for the Russians, not only during World War II but during the Cold War. Joan rationalizes funneling secrets to the Soviet Union by saying she was trying to save the world. If Russia also had the bomb, that would mean neither side would use it.

You gotta be kidding me, old Red Joan and young Red Joan. You spent nearly your entire life betraying your country and living a lie based on THAT logic?

On top of that, at least as the story is told here, you were just about the dullest double agent in movie history.

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