Headhunters is a little too much of a wild ride, but it entertains
Morten Tyldum is talented. "The Firm meets Blood Simple," one reviewer wrote. But there are lots more elements than that in the new Norwegian movie Headhunters: they include Hitchcock, Patricia Highsmith, the Bourne actioners, B-Horror, and the coldly elegant style of the "New Berlin" school as applied to both corporate graft and art crime. This is a slick, precipitous thriller well crafted to provide non-stop fun. Its buffoonish and grotesque, even momentarily revolting, sides suggest early Coen brothers. Its opening premise of a corporate executive recruiter who uses the questioning of highly successful job hunters to set up art heists of their domiciles is ingenious and far-fetched, and also typical of what is to come in this film. It's adapted from Jo Nesbo's eponymous bestseller, and has things in common with those other Nordic bestsellers about the girl with the dragon tattoo. And like the Millennium series, Headhunters is entertainment, not great filmmaking. There's so much in Headhunters, something essential is missing, a heart, a moral core, a true motivation, true psychological depth. It's got a pro-forma endorsement of love and family, but more overtly it's a hymn to power and materialism -- and sexual mistrust. The oddly named protagonist Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) has been so suspiciously dealt with by women here that when he settles down happily with his wife at the end, you can't really believe it. That baby in her belly has got to be a demon child, or a bomb.
I can't help being suspicious of Roger Brown's nemesis and arch enemy Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) too. To start with, he looks like a male model, and he has too many devious skill sets he never has to use, and is an ex-mercenary and former CEO of Dutch GPS firm HOTE. In the initial setup, Roger tells us he's an overachiever out of insecurity -- he moonlights as an art thief to buy compensatory baubles for himself and his blond trophy wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), who's just starting a big slick gallery -- because he's short. Okay, whatever. Then a trap is set for him: he learns the newly arrived Dane Clas Greve -- arrived to "redocorate" an inherited flat -- not only is involved in a corporate war between competing security companies, but has fallen heir to a painting more valuable than anything Roger and his partner in crime (Eivind Sander) have ever had a chance at. It's bait, and when Roger gets cornered he escapes into a privy -- a hint of the grotesquely comic stuff to come and a nod to Boccaccio.
Roger is barely one step ahead of Clas, and takes some really, really hard knocks trying to stay clear of him. In the end, I feel the fun (and action worthy of Hollywood) has been achieved at the cost of the other styles dabbled in along the way -- the suave crime caper, the cold study of corporate sparring, the dangerous war of the sexes -- just to drag us through a raggle-taggle adventure and demonstrate the indestructability of the underdog-everyman crook-hero. But you can't walk out without hearing some admiring cries of, "Wow! Wasn't that just absolutely outrageous?" Millennium's Swedish producer, YellowBird, also handled this production. The adapted screenplay is actually co-credited to Ulf Ryberg, who scripted The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Images include some car and helicopter shots directly borrowed from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But all this is combined into a very nice acting and technical package.
Headhunters (Hodejegerne, in Norwegian, 100 minutes) debuted at Locarno and showed at Toronto and other festivals in 2011 and 2012. It opened in the UK April 6, 2012 and the US April 27.