Review: Headhunters

Mortem Tyldum’s twisted thriller brings Jo Nesbo’s acclaimed novel to the big screen. Aksel Hennie stars as a moonlighting art thief who decides to steal the wrong man’s painting.

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Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) has it all – a high-flying job as a corporate headhunter, the beautiful Scandinavian blonde and the imposing post-modern Nordic abode. However, he’s too short. At least he thinks he’s too short at five foot six (or, as he tells us, 1.68 metres) to sustain a relationship with the taller Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund). So while his wife is constantly looking down on him, he is always looking to sustain her needs by lavishing his goddess with gifts and bankrolling her desire to run an art gallery. To suppress his own feeling of inadequacy he enjoys a passionate secret affair with a local brunette, while moonlighting as an art thief to service his high-rolling lifestyle.

Believing town newcomer Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has a very expensive original Ruben painting in his possession, he enlists the help of his friend and accomplice Ove (Eivind Sander) to carry out one last job that will make them both rich beyond their dreams. But, Greve is not the man to mess with. A former soldier and surveillance expert, he has become a leading figure in the technological advancement of tracking suspects. When Brown breaks into Greve’s apartment and finds his wife’s phone lying by the bedside, things begin to spiral out of control.

Headhunters moves deliciously between kinetic thrills and outlandish craziness as the mystery-thriller hurtles towards a suitably twisted finale. It might follow a familiar formula with the usual red herrings but director Mortem Tyldum along with his star Aksel Hennie aren’t fond of playing by the rules. A terrific sequence that sees a truck smash into a police car while Roger Brown is helplessly handcuffed in its backseat is usually cause for concern for any protagonist. However, Brown, miraculously, is under the supervision of two guards who’ve spent too much salary on McDonald’s super-sized meals. Sandwiched between these two cuddly security staff in the car’s rear seat as it is shunted over a cliff edge, Brown’s crash landing is cushioned making him the only survivor of the carnage. It is this streak of icy humour that makes the thrills so satisfying. It also guarantees an unexpected ride as the plot weaves one way and then the other.

“Headhunters moves deliciously between kinetic thrills and outlandish craziness as the mystery-thriller hurtles towards a suitably twisted finale.”

It helps that Roger Brown is such a distasteful individual. These aren’t Jason Bourne heroics. We’re not siding with Brown because he’s being wronged, because he’s standing up for the good guy. We find ourselves falling into the trap that befalls Aksel Hennie’s mini anti-hero and loving the ride. In some ways, we’re there to witness the man who has it all suffer. Suddenly the beautiful wife is under suspicion and sleeping with his archenemy, his money is no better than Monopoly dollars, and his beloved head of flowing golden hair is lying in a ditch. Beauty is now the beast.

It adds up to a fascinating mixture of high-octane thrills set against the backdrop of a wintry Norway. The offbeat sense of humour and anti-heroics of our conniving lead player make the formulaic construction unpredictably fresh.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Julie Ølgaard, Eivind Sander
Released: 2011 / Genre: Thriller / Country: Norway/Germany / IMDB
Buy from Amazon.co.uk: DVD | Blu-ray
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Dan, I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed this movie. I caught up with it randomly at a the film fest here last November and was blown away. It’s a tense, effective thriller that is gripping once the chase gets rolling. I agree that Brown isn’t a likable guy, and the real fun is seeing how he manages to survive against a superior foe.

  2. Avatar
    Scott Lawlor Reply

    I really love this movie!! So chuffed you did to Dan

  3. Avatar
    Andrew Reply

    I’m still annoyed that I missed this one at IFFBoston this year; fortunately, it looks like I’ll be able to rent it on Netflix relatively soon, so I’ll catch it then. Really curious to see Coster-Waldau play outside of Game of Thrones.

  4. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    I still want to see this, I like Nikolaj and sounds like the movie lives up to the awesome trailer. Great review Dan!

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