Scandinavian thrillers are massive at the moment, be it in book form, on television or in cinemas. The phenomenon seemed to begin with Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and was followed up by Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander novels, which were adapted into TV dramas in both their native Swedish and an English version starring Kenneth Branagh. Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo’s books are already hugely popular, and Headhunters is the first of them to be adapted for the big screen “ in fact it’s full title is Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters – his name prefacing the title presumably to make sure that nobody misses the connection and as many of his legion of fans as possible head to the cinema.
And head to the cinema they should, because Headhunters is excellent. It focuses on Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie, looking uncannily like a young Christopher Walken), a high power recruitment consultant. But Roger is a short man, with a tall, beautiful wife who has a taste for the finer things in life. He also has a deep seated insecurity so he plies his wife with the kind of gifts that even his well-paid job won’t cover, so he supplements his income by stealing works of art. His targets are his clients “ he uses their interviews to find out about pieces they own, and of course, he knows exactly when they will be out. So when he meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an executive with a near-priceless painting by Ruben’s in the apartment, he thinks he may have just hit the motherload. Ok, Greve is an ex-special forces mercenary, which is less than ideal, but how wrong can things go?
Well, spectacularly of course, as Headhunters sees a murderous cat and mouse game begin in Oslo and its surrounding countryside, with the psychopathic Greve relentlessly hunting Roger down. As he does so, the audiences sympathies begin to shift and Roger, who is essentially a scumbag of a pretty high order himself starts to look a good deal more sympathetic when contrasted with Greve (and after he has hidden from Greve in a pit full of human excrement, his slick, tough guy routine has pretty much fallen apart anyway). Roger in fact is a really fine creation with a genuine character arc, made interesting and complex by his unpleasantness, but with enough redeeming characteristics to keep the audience caring about his fate.
Headhunters is a relentless, violent, cynical, funny, nasty thriller of the highest order. It goes at a breakneck pace which is expertly maintained all the way through by director Morten Tyldum. The plot really doesn’t carry a single ounce of fat. It also rarely goes in quite the direction you were expecting. At times it is fairly gory, so be warned “ if you don’t like that kind of thing, you won’t like this. However, it doesn’t feel gratuitous at any point.
Headhunters, like most thrillers, there’s an element of needing to suspend your disbelief. Roger has is extremely resourceful and quick thinking in stressful circumstances, has an extremely broad skillset for businessman and has a pretty high pain threshold. However, when a thriller is this, well, thrilling, it’s pretty easy to see past these minor complaints.
Inevitably and slightly depressingly, an English language remake is already in the pipeline “ in fact, the rights were acquired while this film was still in production. It’s hard to imagine that it will be half as good as this, though it’s easy to imagine it will be a big success.