Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Askel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Eivind Sander, Julie R. Ølgaard
Don’t make the mistake that I did and go into Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters believing it’s going to be the fun thrill ride the film’s trailer suggests. The movie is actually a near-watertight thriller, but it’s also an often grim film (it is, after all, imported from Norway), with occasional forays into very dark humor. Obviously, the movie is ripe for comparison with Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, but the difference is that this film—even with its glowering outlook—isn’t as emotionally heavy, and its aim is more toward being pure entertainment.
Headhunters’ entertainment-oriented direction—and the fact that the film has a real heart at its center, particularly in the final reel—keeps it from being the downer it so easily could have become. The plot is a fairly simple setup, with Askel Hennie playing Roger, a corporate headhunter with expensive tastes. Much of this stems from insecurities he carries around, including his need to please his much more centered and attractive wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund). Swimming in debt, Roger moonlights as an art thief, usually ripping off the people he’s recruiting. This dual life is going along fine until he decides to steal a rare Rubens from Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, TV’s Game of Thrones), a former mercenary who specialized in hunting people down—and who won’t simply let Roger waltz off with his prize.
However, the plot soon becomes much, much more complicated as the film turns into a Gordian knot of deceits and tribulations. Roger—on the lam and with no one to trust—must figure his way out of a situation that becomes more and more impossible at every twist, as Clas soon turns Roger’s life into a living hell. One reason this works is that, in the beginning, Roger simply isn’t likable. He’s an adulterer with a cold-hearted outlook toward others, who carries himself in a smug, selfish and deceitful manner. But this is important, as it turns out that the only way he can redeem himself—not only in the eyes of the audience, but of Diana, too—is to hit rock bottom from these various problems he’s created for himself.
Headhunters is really a tale of reclamation and redemption, and it runs like clockwork. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the film is that it’s almost all pay-off, and the ending shrewdly and skillfully wraps everything up. It’s not always the most plausible film, and it’s not a movie that can be called fun in the purest sense of the word, but it is a welcome piece of sophisticated, suspenseful filmmaking. Rated R for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity.