Those who know me know I’m a sucker for a good thriller, specifically the con and caper variety. Most in this thriller subgenre involve a MacGuffin, an object or goal that is desired by interested parties. Its job is to simply act as an element of the plot, pushing it forward to its intended conclusion.
For the Scandinavian release Headhunters, based on Jo Nesbo’s bestselling work, audiences are led to believe the object is a valuable piece of art that was stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War. But, alas, that’s just diversion, much to the surprise of our protagonist with the very American-sounding name Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie). His profession is that of a corporate headhunter, recruiting clients with attractive resumes and matching them with the right job. Little do the clients know that they are also marks for Brown; he asks them a series of questions relating to their “reputation” and as it pertains to valuables, specifically works of art. Finding out just enough information that is necessary to break in and steal the artwork and replace it with a forgery, Brown puts his neck on the line so that he can support his lavish lifestyle, which includes his blonde bombshell wife, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), who towers over his 1.68 meter height (that’s 5-foot-6 for those who think the metric system is bunk).
Unfortunately for Roger debts are mounting and even with the extra scratch coming from dalliances in art thievery, he’s nearly broke. But his fortunes take a turn for the better when his wife introduces him to former military commando now recently retired CEO Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Greve’s got a great reputation, and such a reputation makes him anything but an easy mark. And unlike Roger, Clas is tall with a chiseled countenance – the type of guy that any statuesque blonde would like to sleep with…and probably has.
Headhunters starts out as your garden variety caper, but goes the unconventional route when bodies start piling up and strange forms of payback transpire. It’s got a twisty narrative, and each fantastical situation will have audiences sitting wide-eyed with tongues firmly in cheek. What’s impressive is that the film honors the likes of Alfred Hitchcock with the plot revolving around a select few. Headhunters only has five significant characters, including one that seems like a throwaway but becomes integral to the story near the third act.
The film has no shortage of signature moments. The battle of wits involving Roger and Clas makes for a bloody good time with Roger’s smooth talkative nature and cool demeanor opposite that of Clas’ trained military commando. When Roger’s cool nerve during a robbery buckles as he learns of his wife’s nocturnal activities in the arms of Clas, it sets off a long cat-and-mouse chase with Clas tracking Roger across Norway. It is during the chase that Roger’s surgical precision when it comes to thievery goes out of the window and he gets sloppy in his handling of evidence and covering his tracks. He does, however, have the ability to think fast, which is an important asset when placed into one dangerous situation after another. To tell you what the situations involve may be giving away too much, though I will say the film Slumdog Millionaire crossed my mind in one instance.
Based on the descriptions of the two central characters one would think that Claus would have no problems “headhunting” Roger. Yet, with each narrow escape what was an unevenly matched live and death duel becomes an even playing field. So while the film devolves into thriller formula with new wrinkles and strange occurrences, because it begins the proceedings with a slow burn before the threat of danger intensifies we are treated to a tightly woven plot and a greaterintimacy among the major characters.
It’s almost disappointing that we have to import such good thrillers from Scandinavia instead of producing our own. What is it about Norway and Sweden that allow them to produce terrific films like Let the Right One In and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Perhaps it’s relying on story and character for the most part, rather than the bells and whistles (ahem, stunt work and special effects) that have spoiled audiences over the years.
Headhunters is sure to be described as Hitchcockian by most because of the use of so few characters and thrills that are derived from human behavior. Conversely, the level of violence is comparable to the likes of Tarantino. No ears are hacked off – nothing like that. But there’s a moment in the aftermath of a car careening off the side of the road that might make some go “yeesh.”
In a few years, an English-language version will be produced for those who don’t like to read at the movies. But for those who don’t quibble over such matters, do seek out this dark-natured but good-humored Scandinavian thriller.
Director: Morten Tyldum Writer: Lars Budmestad, Ulf Ryberg based on the novel by Jo Nesbo Notable Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund, Julie Olgaard, Eivind Sander
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!