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Review: HEADHUNTERS

An airtight, if familiar, Norwegian thriller.

You have seen a dozen films just like Headhunters. And you will probably see a dozen more. But please don’t take that statement as a slight on the film however, because Headhunters is a wonderfully constructed thriller that knows exactly what it is. Headhunters delivers the goods in well planned puzzle pieces that will keep you entertained and occasionally shocked throughout its run time.

Headhunters began its life as a novel written by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. A popular novelist in his native Norway, Nesbo has written over a dozen books, most of which focus on a hard boiled detective named Harry Hole, and a series following a character named Doctor Proktor, which seem to be lighter fare. I haven’t personally read any of Nesbo’s books, but have been hearing his name referenced often in our Stieg Larsson deprived, post- Girl With The Dragon Tattoo world.

Our thriller-hungry, post-Stieg Larsson planet is looking to rekindle the perfect storm magic that was created in the success of Larsson’s tales. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear about a lot more thriller projects being adapted for the big screen from Norway and other Western European countries.

Headhunters tells the tale of Roger Brown, high powered corporate headhunter and daring art thief. The heart and soul of this film adaptation is the fearless Aksel Hennie. Playing Roger with an enormous Napolean complex, it seems there is very little Hennie was not willing to do for this film. Roger feels inadequate as a short and fairly plain looking man. So in order to keep his wildly attractive wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) happy, he lavishes her with an expensive home and presents which he can’t really afford. Although he appears confident and successful, Roger is hopelessly insecure. From this state of mind, he partners up with a redneck-ish, hooker-addicted, firearm-strapping security guard named Ove (Eivind Sander) to help him research and fence the works of art which he steals.

Roger and Ove make a good team and have successfully fenced a number of artworks. However, Roger is on the look out for that ever-elusive “last big score” and he seemingly finds in when Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) shows up in Norway after having been fired from his high profile CEO stint at a military technology firm. Greve is handsome and frightening, and looking for a new CEO stint. Roger teams with him to help him find a new job, but also discovers that Greve owns a painting which would set Roger for life.

Let’s just say that, beyond that, shit gets real, suhn. And you don’t need to know any more of the set up to have a blast.

I initially felt that the set up dragged a little bit in the first act, but by the end one can tell that Headhunters does not waste a single moment in crafting its fairly flawless, hermetically sealed thrill ride. Each piece of the plot set up that I’ve somewhat laboriously laid out above is important to the successful execution of the film. Roger will go through hell and back in order to prove himself. As the film suggests, success is all about reputation. And Roger must prove his mettle to his wife, his competitors, and to his own fragile ego.

Headhunters is the kind of film that opens by listing out the rules which our protagonist follows in order to be a successful art thief. But as we all know, rules as created by a thriller novelist are made to be broken. Tension ratchets up as we see Roger break all of his own rules. Mr. Coster-Waldau (an unreasonably attractive and intimidating man) also creates a whole new world of pain for Roger as he flirts with Diana and seemingly embodies everything that Roger wants in this world. He is a frightening force to be reckoned with and provides a great villain to terrorize our fragile hero.

Word on the street is that Headhunters has already been picked up by Summit Entertainment for a US remake. I’m not one to decry every single remake announcement by any means. But this is a case where it really is sad that  a remake needs to be created because the first iteration is fairly flawless. The plotting is so intricate on this film that I can’t imagine a remake being anything but a point for point recycling of the same plot with a different language lain overtop. But the role of Roger could give a really brave young American actor a meaty opportunity, for sure.

As I mentioned, you’ve seen a few dozen thrillers constructed very similarly to Headhunters. Thrillers can’t vary all that far from a certain formula without ceasing to be thrillers. But there are some bold performances here and enough shocks, twists, laughs, and mysteries to keep you entertained. If you don’t ask for much from your thrillers beyond a breakneck pace and a ripping yarn, then Headhunters will definitely be your cup of Norwegian tea.

[Headhunters is playing now in theaters across the country and will be rolling out to new theaters throughout the Summer. Check out the release schedule here]

[Rating: 3.0]