With the recent invasion of Scandinavian crime fiction on British shores bringing with it slow-burning procedurals and flawed police officers, you might expect similar from the latest Norwegian entry into the fast growing genre. Instead, Headhunters (2011) director Morten Tyldum has delivered a high octane, violent heist thriller that has earned each and every one of its plaudits. Adapted from Jo Nesbø’s novel of the same name, the film pits a corporate headhunter against an enigmatic Danish businessman in a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is not the tallest of men and he is painfully aware of this. In order to make up for it he keeps his beautiful, long-legged wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), in a manner he deems fitting; well enough that she won’t leave him. However, his day job is not enough to sustain even their mortgage payments so he moonlights as an art thief.
When Roger meets hugely successful businessman, Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), he learns of a priceless painting sitting in a relative’s apartment and sees the chance for one big score that will allow him to pay off the house and retire from his alternative line of work. Unfortunately for Roger, Clas Greve is not a man with which one should trifle and after pocketing the painting, he finds himself hunted by a ferocious foe, known for his tracking abilities and dark past in the special forces.
The chase is a thrilling one with moments of heart-pounding tension, deity-invoking despair and squirm-inducing violence that sees the initially unlikeable Roger pushed to the very brink. As Greve’s relentless pursuit begins to take on murkier aspects, Roger comes to believe that he cannot trust anyone or anything; not his own wife, or even his own hair. Coster-Waldau is magnetic as Greve making a truly chilling villain, and Lund is entirely convincing in her fist film role. But it is Roger who holds the Headhunters together and it is testament to the filmmakers and to Hennie that the character becomes so likeable and easy to root for.
Combining the darkness of Scandinavian crime fiction with lashings of blood and the intricate plotting and ultimate charm of a heist caper, Headhunters is a compelling and utterly enjoyable comic thriller. In years to come, Tyldum’s dark neo-noir will doubtless warrant revisiting on numerous occasions.
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