Dir. Morten Tyldum, Norway, 2011, 98 mins
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lind, Eivind Sander
Review by Colin Dibben
This hugely enjoyable thriller is from a novel by the bestselling Jo Nesbo – who is currently promoted as ‘The New Stieg Larsson’. No idea what the books are like, but this film’s got way more gleeful twists and turns and macabre humour than those The Girl Who… films. No kinky sex though.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a successful corporate headhunter with a beautiful, cultured wife (Synnove Macody Lind) and a beautiful modernist house (in the cool Nordic style). But he makes the mortgage payments with high-end breaking and entering, stealing artworks from his rich interviewees. Now, this may sound a bit silly but thankfully things start to go wrong for the insufferably smug Roger. And when they do, the plot starts to zip around like a bag of nails in a wind tunnel.
Hennie looks remarkably like a young Steve Buscemi with a big blond wig on. And as his world goes down the plughole fast, he is transformed from a creepy corporate ‘swinging dick’ to a bug-eyed loser fighting for his life. Redemption comes in the form of… ah well, let’s just mention toilets, tractors and love rekindled for now.
Roger’s nemesis is one of his targets, the unspeakably square-jawed Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is not the sort of person you want to steal art from. There’s a nice scene in a locker room after a game of squash, when Roger reacts to news of Clas’s extreme special-forces training. The transformation from confident over-achiever to abject wet-pants failure takes maybe three seconds. Pure Buscemi, but Norwegian!
It’s not all nasty men being beastly to one another. There are healthy doses of jealousy, paranoia and even several relationship tips to lighten the mood. Some visceral, even macabre scenes of violence and an undertone of surreal dark humour keep you from worrying about credibility. And it’s filmed in that nice-looking Scandinavian way that we are all familiar with from Wallander and the Millennium Trilogy.
Apparently, an astonishing 10 per cent of Norwegians went to see Headhunters in 2011, and I think they’re on to something. Headhunters is an accomplished and energetic thriller that deploys some unusual plot devices to bootstrap itself out of the genre swamp. As I was watching this, I kept on comparing it – very favourably – to 2006’s Tell No One, thinking: why is Headhunters so much more fun? It’s probably the violence. Highly recommended.