Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

Norway (2011) Dir. Morten Tyldum

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a successful headhunter and is also an art thief along with security company worker Ove Kjikerud (Eivind Sander) who steal expensive paintings from clients Roger meets and replace them with fakes, selling the originals for a profit. At an exhibition at the art gallery owned by his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), Roger is introduced to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a candidate for the CEO position with a surveillance company named Pathfinder that Roger is headhunting for. Clas mentions a rare painting he has which belonged to his grandmother, which immediately catches Roger’s interest and he conspires with Ove to steal it. The job seems to go according to plan but Roger quickly discovers he may have bitten off more than he can chew with Clas.

Based on the novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, this is the latest entry into the Nordic Noir catalogue to hit the UK although that title may be a little tenuous as this isn’t as dark and gloomy as its contemporaries, at least not in a brooding atmosphere sense. There are some scenes of gruesome violence and whether intentional or not, some very dark humour but Headhunters stand out from the others by maintaining a lively pace throughout as this twisting tale of crime and deception unfolds.

It has to be said that Roger is a bit of smug git and thus an unlikely choice for the role of protagonist, with his Napoleon complex leading him to brag about having a tall statuesque blonde wife, big car, big house etc while also having a bit on the side in the form of the mousy Lotte (Julie Ølgaard) who he dumps early on when she wants to introduce him to a friend while he wants to keep their relationship quiet. Apparently it is Diana’s expensive tastes that is putting a strain on Roger’s wallet which he admits he indulges as not to lose her, hence the art scam. This is quiet cleverly executed by Roger and Ove, using both of their professional expertises in this endeavour. Roger sounds out the clients as to their home arrangements, when they at home and so on, then Ove checks out the security systems and disables for Roger to steal the paintings. Ove is also a bit of sly and oddly vain old dog, as he has a camera system set up in his cabin getaway where he takes a young “lady” and lets his work mates secretly watch as the intimate activities take place.

Roger first realises he has stepped in some deep doo-doo (a pun very much intended as we see later on in one of the more unpleasant scenes) when he rings Diana’s mobile from Clas’s home only to find her phone in Clas’s bedroom. A bit miffed, roger then sabotages Clas’s interview for the Pathfinder CEO job which naturally doesn’t sit well with Clas. When Roger finds Ove apparently dead he goes into a panic, realising Clas is onto him. What follows is a sinister game of cat and mouse which sees Roger having to use all of his nous to avoid capture by Clas, the head of a company which creates innovative surveillance and tracking devices. But Clas always seems to be one step ahead, messing with Roger’s mind the combination of paranoia and extreme circumstance force him to take some drastic measures.

Having not read the book I can’t comment on how well this adaptation works but the execution of the plot and the various scams and traps Roger and Clas find themselves embroiled in suggest Nesbo is a very imaginative writer. The plot begins as a fairly straight forward crime caper but as it progresses it weaves some intriguing threads as Clas’s plan unfold, forcing the obnoxious and smarmy Roger to re-evaluate his priorities thanks to his life almost ending on a few occasions. Unfortunately it is some of these life threatening incidents where one wonders if director Morten Tyldum was going for a black comedy instead of a tense thriller thanks to the apparent indestructibility of Roger, who could lay claim to being a human relative of Wile E. Coyote. On that note, dog lovers might also want to give one scene a miss too.

At 100 minutes this film is careful not to outstay its welcome and packs a lot into its running time, with the pace remaining constant throughout, ensuring the action keeps moving along nicely. Tyldum knows how to create a sense of tension and pulls no punches in making sure the violence and shocks as chilling as possible, but is canny enough to not rely on these and the overblown stunts to carry the film, remembering that the story is key. One needs to pay attention as this is one occasion where everything happens for a reason. While the cast are you typical matinee idol types, leading man Aksel Hennie is put through his paces as Roger, having to ensure a number of emotional and physical changes during this death defying journey. To say he suffered for his art would be an understatement.

Whether this adaptation will satisfy fans of the novel I cannot attest to, but as a slice of Scandinavian cinema Headhunters is an admirable and inventive crime thriller which should also appease anyone checking this out through their newly acquired love of all things Nordic post The Killing. Just be warned that the inevitable Hollywood remake is on its way so make sure you see this version first to avoid disappointment.