A film review by Craig J. Koban September 5, 2012
2012, R, 98 mins.
2012, R, 98 mins.
Roger: Aksel Hennie /
Clas: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau /
Diana: SynnÝve Macody Lund
In Norwegian, Danish and Russian, with English subtitles
love it when films throw methodical curveballs at me by keeping me
guessing and always defying my expectations at every turn.
HEADHUNTERS is just such an effort; Iíve never seen a film that
begins so light and whimsically with an aura of cheeky mischief and then
goes down into a perverse rabbit hole of limitless and merciless depravity
as it does. Based on the
novel by Jo Nesbo and directed by Morten Tyldum, the Norwegian-German made
HEADHUNTERS maintains a cutthroat pacing, deeply macabre sense of humor,
and dives headfirst into one chilling and grotesque plot development to
the next with a confidence and bravado that Hitchcock would have admired.
film is indeed awash in gleeful narrative preposterousness at times, but I
was so taken in with its nerve-jangling oddness and audacious disregard of
lame Hollywood thriller formulas that I just became hopelessly lost in
its cunning ambitiousness. HEADHUNTERS
also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Scandinavia is officially the
cinematic Mecca of the finest thrillers being made today.
Films like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the original INSOMNIA, THE
GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and now HEADHUNTERS display an
unparalleled mastery of mood and suspense without gorging on pyrotechnics
and CGI overkill. North
American filmmakers could learn an awful lot by watching these films, as
all of them never seem to straddle on a straight line of conventionality.
in particular respects viewers enough to shift its narrative gears sharply
to keep us unnervingly off-balance: it begins with what appears to be an
OCEANíS ELEVEN styled heist caper and then transforms into something bizarre
and perpetually ghastly. Roger
Brown (Aksel Hennie) leads a duplicitous life: heís both a corporate
ďheadhunterĒ that likes to attract big game applicants that also has a
somewhat complicated personal life. He has a gorgeous and
extremely tall blonde goddess of a wife (Synnove Macody Lund) that
he likes to impress with lavish gifts and also has a mistress on the side
(Julie Olgaard). Personally,
Roger seems to be also compensating for Ė as his voice-over track lets on Ė his small 1.68m (5í6Ē)
- frame. Nonetheless, heís acutely aware of his physical limitations
and instead relies on his wits and calculating nerve to be a standout in
of that, Rogerís debts are mounting rather quickly.
As a result, he works as a master art thief with his partner, Ove (Eivind
Sander), steeling expensive works in order to facilitate his increasingly
expensive lifestyle. Their
work is quite ingenious: Ove surveys the properties to ensure that no one is
home while Roger swoops in, replaces the real art with high tech
forgeries, and then flees with the real pieces and sells them on the black
market. Ironically, Rogerís
wife is opening a new art gallery when he meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj
Coster-Waldau), a Danish-Dutch ex-mercenary that Roger
thinks would be perfect to recruit at his day job.
However, he learns that Clas has an incalculably priceless painting
by Rubens, so he forges a plan to steal it from him, but during the heist
he learns of a shocking tie that Clas has with his wife and this, in turn,
leads to a cat and mouse chase between thief and ex-soldier that goes down
some really dark corners.
perhaps most compelling about HEADHUNTERS is the adaptability,
determination, and overall smarts of both Roger as the fleeing quarry and
Clas as the hunter. The
middle sections of the film revolves around the very long and increasingly
dangerous chase through most of Norway as Clas uses his
skills and some really nifty high tech gear to nab Roger.
Roger, although understandably dazed and confused by being on the
run from someone as lethal as Clas, nonetheless remains a pillar of
improvisational resilience and teeth-clench fortitude in the midst of
certain death. At one point he finds an unthinkable and decidedly icky
location to hide in order to evade Clas that will have many a
filmgoer squirming with fidgety anxiety.
This later culminates in one of the most darkly hysterical and
sinister chase scenes Iíve ever seen, where a fecal-matter-covered Roger
commandeers a farm tractor Ė that sports the dead carcass of a tracking
dog impaled on its front rakes (donít ask) Ė and attempts to flee Clas.
film then careens from one absurd, grotesquely violent, and freakishly
over-the-top moment to the next (a bravura crash sequence that involves
Roger surviving a horrific, cliff diving auto accident has to be literally
seen to be believed), but I grew less and less conscious of their sheer
implausibility because Tyldumís fever-pitched pacing is utterly
relentless. There are moments
where you are left being unable to question the logic of certain sequences
because the film forges on to the next one without hesitation or wasting
time on needless exposition. Even
more intriguing is how the film casts both Roger and Clas as sort of
equally immoral men: both have committed adultery and both are capable of
ethically thorny behavior that certainly separates them from respectively being an
innocent victim and noble-minded chaser.
performances are sort of thanklessly lived-in and natural considering the
unwavering craziness that permeates this film.
Hennie looks like the love child of an 80ís-era Christopher
Walken and Owen Wilson and has to convey an adroit range between being a
smooth-talking and confident businessman/thief to being a panicked and
befuddled dupe thatís been punched, kicked, bitten, attacked by animals,
shot at, stabbed, nearly drowned, and crushed to death while evading Clas.
Coster-Waldau, at the same time, has an equally tricky role of
playing a handsome, debonair, and charming adulterer that's also a resolute and
steely-eyed Terminator-esque figure that will stop at nothing to eradicate
HEADHUNTERS had the second biggest opening box office weekend of all-time in Norway when it premiered, and considering the popularity of its source material and the resulting film, I can definitely see why. The film is like a headstrong and deliciously wicked cocktail of the eccentricities of Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers while moving intrepidly forward on its own daring and innovative feet. One weakness to the film, though, may be that Iím still trying to make heads or tails of its twisted and jumbled double-crosses upon double-crosses plot that seems to end a bit too neatly considering what preceded it. No matter, because HEADHUNTERS evades those nitpicky considerations by being an endlessly watchable and exemplary exercise in dark humor and unrelenting suspense; itís one the most hypnotic films of 2012 and I love how it slaps dime-a-dozen Hollywood genre conventions in the face: I just hope that when the already planned and inevitable U.S. remake starts shooting that its producers slap themselves out of filmmaking complacency.