Believing that his wife Diana (Lund) is only with him due to the lavish lifestyle he provides, insecure corporate headhunter Roger Brown (Hennie) supplements his income by stealing high-end art from his client’s homes. When new client Clas Greve (Coster-Waldau) admits to owning a priceless painting, Roger plans to take it and make a fortune, but matters are complicated when it turns out that Clas is a different kind of headhunter altogether…
One of this year’s foreign language movies which has managed to penetrate the mainstream, Headhunters is an accomplished thriller which deserves the critical praise it’s being afforded. Adapted from Jo Nesbø’s international bestseller, the killer central premise is both fresh and reminiscent of something the Coen brothers might cook up, given the offbeat blend of deceit, black humour and ruthless, generally-unlikeable characters who’re forced into increasingly desperate situations. That said, those who aren’t quite in awe of Joel and Ethan will be pleased to know that any thematic similarities are only skin-deep, as Morten Tyldum’s gripping crime picture isn’t nearly as glib, self-satisfied or mean-spirited as the Coens’ usual work.
Of course, as a European film with subtitles and sharp shifts in tone (Tyldum often punctuates scenes of dark violence with amusingly-surreal moments), your average popcorn viewer will probably give it a miss. Which is a shame. After a solid set-up where narrator Aksel Hennie (who often looks like the Nordic love-child of Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken) introduces us to his Roger Brown (surely the most un-Norwegian name ever), Headhunters becomes progressively involving as a taut game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
As well as offering a few well-constructed twists and genuinely tense sequences (such as Roger pretending to be dead in an up-turned car), it’s also a punishing affair. With a wince-inducing head-shave and a toilet trip which out-grosses Renton’s dip in Trainspotting among the highlights, you’ll likely find yourself recoiling at least once or twice. The climax is let down by some sketchy plotting (particularly someone getting their job back), but Hennie has an interestingly reptilian screen presence (future Bond baddie anyone?) and Game Of Thrones‘ unfeasibly handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau continues to prove that he’s going places.
One of this year’s foreign language movies which has managed to penetrate the mainstream, Headhunters is an accomplished thriller which deserves the critical praise it’s being afforded. If you can get past the subtitles, there’s a gripping and pleasingly-offbeat crime thriller in store for you.