|Image: Momentum Pictures|
After the phenomenal success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo we’ve seen an incredible rise in popularity of Scandinavian thrillers, with The Killing and Borgen making a splash on our TV screens. Author Jo Nesbø’s novels have been among the more successful imports and we were interested to see what this adaptation of his book would deliver.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) has problems. He’s married to a beautiful, successful woman and he’s one of the best head-hunters in Denmark. But he has low self-esteem and lives beyond his means to keep his wife in luxury, supplementing his income by stealing prospective employees’ valuable art when he knows they’ll be away. But when he tangles with the ex-military Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), he ends up in over his head and on the run from his relentless foe.
During the first twenty minutes, there isn’t a whole lot to separate Headhunters from other con/thief movies, apart from the fact that the main character isn’t particularly likeable. Roger justifies his actions several times by pointing out how unattractive (and short) he is, but we see him cheating on his wife, he reacts badly when she asks him why he doesn’t want children, and there’s also the fact that he’s a thief. When the dashing but clearly dastardly Clas shows up, we’re almost rooting for him more than Roger.
But when the second act begins things get a lot more interesting. Roger is pushed into increasingly bizarre, darkly comic situations that show a wicked sense of humour lacking from many films of the same genre, with the Coen brothers a clear influence on director Morten Tyldum. It’s also totally engrossing to see Roger fall ever deeper into his nightmare, not just because of the inventiveness of the punishment but because there’s a distinct feeling that he deserves it. Hennie is excellent as the wily Roger, trying to keep a level head as every option slips away from him. Game of Thrones fans will recognise Coster-Waldau as the evil Jaime Lannister, and he brings a similar well-groomed menace to his character here. The women of the film don’t fare as well although, given that it’s presented from the perspective of the not-particularly-likeable lead, that might be the point.
As the film progresses there are a couple of regrettably sentimental moments and it’s occasionally a little too close to its Hollywood counterparts, but this is an impressively inventive, surprisingly funny film that’s definitely worth hunting down.
Give it time. From an unpromising start Headhunters quickly shows a sharp, nasty sense of humour that puts it above a lot of recent Hollywood thrillers.