Another successful entry in the Scandinavian thriller genre.
Playing to great popularity on the festival circuit last year, and already being processed by the remake machine, Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters adapts the Jo Nesbo crime novel into a smart and stylish Norwegian Thriller.
Roger Brown (Askel Hennie) is a top headhunter, seeking out high-flying executives for powerful corporations. In his spare time he robs these same clients of their rare works of art, steadily building himself a fortune on the black market, funding his luxury lifestyle and trophy wife (Synnøve Macody Lund). Meeting urbane CEO Clas Greve (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), he smells a big payday, especially when he discovers that Greve has come into possession of an extremely valuable Rubens.
Beginning with an internal narration from Hennie, introducing us to the rather unlikable character of Brown, we see his slick operation in action as he liberates some paintings, places some candidates in jobs and drives his expensive Mercedes around. Things take a more interesting turn as we meet Greve, as the heist movie style planning and execution of the robbery begins. Of course, all is not as it seems, and Greve is far more than meets the eye, triggering a riveting cross-country game of cat and mouse as Brown finds himself drawn into something way bigger than his mere multi-million euro scamming.
As things get increasingly desperate, we warm to Brown a little more, as he finds himself put through the mill over and over again, including a very unpleasant scene with a cesspit, an impromptu haircut which is tough to watch and some real edge of the seat chases. This is mainly down to Hennie’s roguishly charming performance, and as the plot thickens, his character visibly loses layers of unpleasantness, becoming just a man on the run who we get behind, but never totally trust. Coster-Waldau is by turns smooth and intimidating as the antagonist, and Lund takes a break from her day-job as, of all things, a film critic to anchor the story neatly.
As events escalate, there are enough surprises in store to keep us fixed to the screen, including a couple of bursts of shocking violence which we never see coming. A welcome sense of black humour runs throughout, with a couple of clever sight gags and grotesque situations bringing laughs amongst all the tension.
Despite a beginning which struggles to get us totally onside with the main character, Headhunters soon manages to draw us into an intense, offbeat thriller with a fascinating chase structure. A committed performance from lead Hennie aids an entertaining mixture of black humour, gruesome violence and tense pacing which does more than enough to keep us entertained. Clearly with one eye on success outside its native language – naming the lead “Roger Brown” never does sit quite right – this is another strong entry in the recent crop of Scandinavian crime genre movies.