A film review by Craig J. Koban September 5, 2012

RANK:  #11

HEADHUNTERS jjjj
 

2012, R, 98 mins.

Roger: Aksel Hennie / Clas: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau / Diana: SynnÝve Macody Lund

Directed by Morten Tyldum / Written by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg, based on the novel by Jo NesbÝ

In Norwegian, Danish and Russian, with English subtitles

I 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.  

The 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.  

HEADHUNTERS 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 life. 

 

 

Outside 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. 

Whatís 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.  

The 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.   

The 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 Roger. 

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.

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