Sometimes when I’m browsing around in Walmart or Giant Tiger, I come across bargain DVDs I’ve never heard of before. This is the case here. Apparently this story is loosely based on the real-life kidnapping of Gerrit Jan Heijn that took place in the Netherlands in 1987, and as a psychological thriller it relies on the considerable talent of the couple at the centre of the story, Wayne and Eileen Hayes, played by Robert Redford and Helen Mirren and that of Willem Dafoe in the role of a mild-mannered but determined villain. This is the debut film for Dutch director Pieter Jan Brugge; the screenplay was written by Justin Haythe.
The story begins with the very ordinary day of the Hayes, a wealthy couple living the American dream in a suburb of Pittsburgh, and the not so ordinary day of Arnold Mack, former employee of Wayne Hayes, and soon-to-be kidnapper. Then the day goes totally haywire for Wayne while it continues uneventfully for Eileen until her husband doesn’t show up for dinner with friends that evening. Bits and pieces of Wayne’s day are interspersed with a period of about two weeks for Eileen, as she deals with a life spiralling out of control. First, the embarrassment of dinner without him, then the police who assume he’s just taken off, and finally, a house full of FBI agents, the children and grandchild, the discovery of an ongoing affair that should have been discontinued months earlier, and finally, a ransom paid with no return of Wayne.
The clues revealed bit by bit are misleading, and the psychological effects on Wayne have varying effects on him as his bizarre day continues. A clever entrepreneur with a knack for names and for putting people at ease, Wayne begins by being cooperative while trying to think of ways to communicate with or escape to the real world from the surreal forest world of his kidnapper who claims to be a cog in a larger and unknown organization. Then he tries to keep Arnold talking about himself, his dreams, what he expects the outcome will be for him from his actions.
From the beginning, the moving back and forth from the house to the forest, and the variance in time, his single day in contrast to her two weeks of alternating hope and despair in her day, sets up a palpable tension. The time variance isn’t obvious until almost the end of the movie when the threads begin to converge. Flashbacks to happier times add to the sense of hope and what might be lost.
The ending took me completely by surprise. As the viewer, I went through all the same emotions the characters did: at times, I was sure we were being told the truth; sometimes, I was convinced Wayne would escape; I thought the ransom payoff might go awry but might work out. It was emotionally draining and full of suspense. This movie, in my opinion, didn’t get the kind of attention it deserved. It isn’t fast-paced; there are no car chases. There are no knock-down, drag-out fights. The kidnapper is almost constantly polite. But the ending blew me away. You can find it on Amazon. * * * * *