Sep 20, 2012|
(Norway/Germany) Crime/Thriller. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Starring Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund. Category IIB. 100 minutes. Opens Sep 20.
“Headhunters” is a movie that will put things into perspective when you want to whine about your mundane problems; watch it and you’ll realize that life could be much worse and you should be ecstatic about yours. I mean, when the film’s protagonist finds himself in deep shit, it’s not metaphorical—he’s literally buried in five feet of human feces.
Yep, it’s that kind of movie—disturbing, dirty and with a deliciously dark and naughty sense of humor, like a mean crossover of Hitchcock and the Coen brothers. Based on the eponymous 2008 crime novel by Jo Nesbø, the Norwegian counterpart of Stieg Larsson, this Nordic noir bears many similarities to the celebrated “Millennium” trilogy, but has one unique quality that makes it immensely fresh and fun: its tongue-in-cheek undertone. A brilliant Aksel Hennie plays the story’s anti-hero Roger Brown, a successful headhunter with a massive Napoleon complex. Sleek, smart and arrogant, Roger is a guy driven by insecurities about his 5’6” height (let’s not forget this is in Scandinavia, where everybody has a freakishly towering frame), for which he overcompensates. His wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) is a tall, hot blonde who could easily pass as a supermodel. Constantly worrying that she will leave him for a better man, Roger buys the lavish modernist mansion that she loves and showers her with luxurious jewelry, none of which he can afford with his corporate recruitment salary—hence his highly profitable (and sometimes, as he soon learns, highly dangerous) sideline of art theft.
What type of art do you own? Does your wife work? Do you have dogs or maids? The casual lifestyle questions he asks his clients seem only appropriate during interviews—and they come in pretty handy when Roger proceeds to steal valuable paintings from their homes. This time, Roger has his eyes on Danish hunk Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”), who’s introduced to him by Diana at her new gallery’s opening. A former special force tracking unit solider who’s recently stepped down as the CEO of a surveillance equipment company, Clas—a charismatic and intelligent physical specimen—is not only the ideal person for a job that Roger is trying to fill, but he also allegedly has a long-lost Rubens painting.
So the game is on, only it’s not as simple as Roger had expected. You see, all of a sudden, it’s our dashing headhunter’s head that’s is being hunted (the title’s plural form isn’t for nothing), and what follows is a series of wildly unpredictable and violently insane twists and turns that sends the hapless Roger into an unsalvageable situation and has the viewers anxiously biting their nails. Every time you think Roger's luck has hit rock-bottom, trust me, worse is to come and more blood shall be shed. As far as plot implausibility goes, “Headhunters” doesn’t always hold tightly together in the logic department, but its exhilarating pace and boundary-pushing story developments nonetheless make it one of the most gripping and thrilling films you’ll see this year.
From the cinematography to the editing and score, this production is effectively simplistic, giving the picture a stylishly neat and gritty feel like only a Scandi crime thriller can have. Between the two male leads in this increasingly brutal cat-and-mouse chase, Hennie owns the movie from start to end, while Coster-Waldau is also chillingly convincing as the unstoppable villain. And Lund, a former model and working film critic (I think all my fellow film critics would agree that she’s way too gorgeous for this profession), impressively carries out her first acting role. The characterization of Roger is an interesting one, since he’s not exactly likable, nor someone we typically root for, which explains why we secretly enjoy watching him being put through humiliating (and amusingly torturous) ordeals. However, in the meantime, he grows on us—sure, he may be cocky, greedy and brought the disasters upon himself, but is still sympathetic and not remotely as heartless and lethal as the enemy he’s overmatched by. And we’re happy to witness his transformation. In this sense, “Headhunters” is a cautionary tale with satirical reflections on materialism and the male ego, and the best part about it is that you don’t have to take it too seriously.