In “Headhunters”, an adaptation of the popular Nordic crime novel by Jo Nesbo, we learn an important lesson which could probably help many of us in our daily lives – ask your partner what they want, don’t just assume it.
It’s a notion which the anti-hero of this piece, the slightly improbably named Roger Brown (played by diminutive, Christopher Walken-alike Aksel Hennie) could stand to learn. Though outwardly successful as a slick corporate recruiter in Oslo, he’s inwardly drowning by trying to provide wife Diana (Synovve Macody Lund) with the trappings of an upwardly mobile lifestyle – architect designed house, nice clothes, facilitating his wife’s new art gallery.
Something has to give – and Roger’s sideline in high-end art theft from upscale clients and contacts isn’t getting the job done, lucrative as it is. When word of a big score comes his way – the kind that will fund a bloke’s retirement – it proves both impossible to resist and the beginnings of a journey through a very personal and gruesome hell.
The first thing to say about this very enjoyable film is that it isn’t for everyone. If pitch-black comedy of the Coen Brothers/Danny Boyle/David Fincher variety isn’t your thing, you should steer well clear of “Headhunters”. Roger goes to very some dark places to save his hide during the course of this story and Nesbo’s story does a brilliant job of putting his not entirely sympathetic protagonist under pressure and then slowly applying more to see how far he’ll be prepared to go before he shatters.
The very best thing about “Headhunters” is that it manages to depict relatively amoral characters and bone-crunching violence without ever lapsing into fashionable nihilism for nihilism’s sake – it’s a thriller made by and for adults, with none of the bogus outlaw posing and celebration of thuggery that lesser films might well wear as a badge of honour.
When I say amoral, I really do mean it – the inevitable American remake will probably have serious issues in going to the dark territory that this film inhabits as major studio squeamishness won’t deal with some of the more wince-making scenes and ideas which are second nature to non-Hollywood fare. The ending, for example, is not one which punishes the unjust and rewards the stout of heart for their good deeds. Our anti-hero is essentially a sociopath whose singular distinction from the antagonist of the film, Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is that he’s doing terrible things to survive and not because he enjoys doing them.
We do, in essence, have a story where the nominal hero and villain are studies in duality – but the film doesn’t harp on about that in an effort to gain credibility from cinephiles or appear more psychologically complex than the average thriller. The amoral aspects of the story are just there as a part of its creative DNA, as natural as the Norwegian setting or baffling preponderance of Nokia mobile phones in an iPhone and Samsung handset universe.
To sum up – a cracking thriller with gruesome moments, a superb cast, relatively unusual settings, intriguing reversals and plot development which is genuinely satisfying and a fine slice of Autumnal entertainment. If I gave films star ratings, this would be a five-star job.
- ‘Headhunters’ could star Mark Wahlberg, says Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (digitalspy.co.uk)
- Mark Kermode’s DVD round-up (guardian.co.uk)
- Mini-Reviews: Headhunters, Dark Shadows, Get the Gringo (thepasswordisswordfish.com)
- Jackpot – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Jackpot – review (guardian.co.uk)