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.
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.