13 April 2012


The proliferation of American language remakes based on world cinema sources has gotten to the point where I just assume everything is going to be remade. With Headhunters, it's particularly easy, because the film seems to have been made with the international audience in mind, with the result being that I could totally picture Tom Cruise running around and doing the same thing over again in 18 months while I was actually watching it.

Based on the novel by Jo Nesbø, the dubious hero of the story is Roger Brown, a man whose 5'5 stature leads him to overcompensate in many ways. He's the most accomplished headhunter in Norway, and yet he still spends way beyond his means, in some deluded attempt to keep his loving wife satisfied. To cover the cost of their luxurious lifestyles, Roger moonlights as an art thief, and he prepares meticulously for each and every covert op. When he happens upon a piece of artwork stolen by the Nazis, and inherited by a potential colleague, he inadvertently enters a world of pain.

It's not too far off the mark to call this Norway's answer to American Psycho, but there is something of the Coen brothers' more noirish work in this film. Roger is markedly an anti-hero, and his adversary, Clas Greve, is even less nice, so you're kind of watching two arseholes in a game of cat and mouse. The enjoyment comes from the fact that one of those arseholes is much less physically capable than the other, but then his survival instincts are strong enough to lead him into absurd, almost hilarious actions.

It's a far cry from Wallander or Lisbeth Salander, and what with Scandinavian crime thrillers being so popular of late, that's somewhat surprising. The anarchic tone all but drowns out the nice, subtle satire about upper class  living. As unsympathetic as Roger is in the early part of the film, when he resembles a young Christopher Walken, Aksel Hennie's performance is good enough that you start to root for him, in a weird way. But that's entirely intentional, and the turning point is just as strange as it should be.

Synnøve Macody Lund and Nicolaj Coster give admirable support to Hennie, and Eivind Sander is very memorable as Roger's partner-in-crime, Ove. The contrast between the two men is staggering, with Ove living a joyously simple life with his ill-gotten gains, out in the woods with a prostitute, with whom he's very clearly smitten, in a small log cabin that has a gun in every room. Once we learn that, there's really only one place that Roger's battle to the death can be headed, and it's with a little difficulty that the film pulls itself there.

It must be assumed that I'd have the same problem with the novel, given that's where the story comes from, but the forecasting of certain turns in the plot left something of a sour taste in the mouth. Generally, the writers do a good job of embedding little bits of information that will be important later on, so maybe it's just that the slick climax feels like a bit of a letdown, after the high-paced and enjoyable lunacy that goes on up to that point.

Headhunters seems more geared for an American language remake than any world cinema crossover hit I can remember. It seems almost braced for impact, which could explain why it never really cuts loose. Some insane, funny stuff happens in the second act of the film, but it almost seems set on calming down in time for the credits to roll. Nevertheless, fine work by the cast, especially Hennie- Tom Cruise has some big boots to fill. And some short trousers.

Headhunters is still showing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Headhunters, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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