You don’t have to be a world cinema expect to have heard Headhunters thrown around over the last six months. A box office hit, Morten Tyldum’s adaptation of the writer Jo Nesbø’s hit novel is a thriller like no other you’ll see this year. Slick, violent, cerebral and even comedic, it goes beyond being just another Norwegian Noir success story, it’s right out in front leading the way for Scandinavians all over.
It kicks off with leading man Aksel Hennie as the anti-hero Roger Brown giving us the lowdown on his complex life. Through voice-over we learn that he is a slimy corporate headhunter by day, moonlighting as an art thief in order to pay for his decadent lifestyle and materialistic vixen wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund, getting off to a great start in her first ever acting role).
Crippled by debt, the walking weasel Roger sees the opportunity of a lifetime when he meets Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a Danish technocrat who has an original, priceless Rubens painting locked away in his old aunt’s Oslo home. Planning the heist with his henchman Ove (Eivind Sander), it all goes according to plan until Roger realises that Dirty Diana is having an affair with the suave Clas, which will only end in a bloody reversal of fortune.
I’ll reserve any afterthought on Headhunters’ complexities. Needless to say, Nesbø’s story takes many compelling twists through a tautly constructed, rapidly paced 95-minute running time. The biggest and most impressive turn of all is the development of Roger. Initially snivelling and unsympathetic, he turns from a cowardly bird of prey to vindictive action-man. The headhunter becomes the hunted head – it’s a hard transition to pull off, but director Tyldum manages it by testing the audience’s relationship with the protagonist and he must go through a set of punishing escape trials: swimming through sewerage, suffocating between two dead, obese policemen, and hacking off his luscious locks (a terrible wig, but I’ll let it slip, just this once). The humiliation that Roger goes through is so testing that the multifaceted characteristics, and Hennie’s stellar performance, make for compelling, empathetic viewing; with the impressive supporting cast keeping up the chase.
For all it’s ballsy action, Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg’s adapted screenplay provides some cutting comic relief; just enough to make us chuckle, but never distracting us from the intricate storyline.
With such swift momentum throughout, Headhunters slightly loses it’s edge near the film’s end, where Tyldum feels the need to condescendingly tell us the exact turn of events through an explanatory, literarily expansive voiceover. Like a magician revealing the trapped door, such a meticulous afterword taints the mystique and charm of what came before it. Despite the disappointing closing moments, Tyldum’s reworking of the Nesbø bestseller is an exciting and indelible head-spin. Ignore the Hollywood remake, this is the one.
Headhunters is available on worldwide DVD right now. You can also stream online at iTunes, HULU and Netflix.