Masterfully clever Headhunters hits the spot

Cinephiles take note: there’s a new hot import in town.  Scandinavian film-making strikes again as Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters invades UK cinemas and it’s a must see for any film buff worth their salt.  Intelligently fashioned and brilliantly mad, this tale of an insecure art thief stakes an early claim for 2012’s most enjoyable foreign film.

Aksel Hennie discusses Headhunters, in UK cinemas 6 April

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a high-profile head-hunter, targets wealthy, art loving recruits in order to maintain a high living standard for himself and broody wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund).  So it may come as some surprise to learn that Roger is Headhunters’ protagonist.  Immensely flawed and self-serving, Roger would be incredibly loathsome were he not so utterly clever and Hennie injects the role with understated charm and charisma that keeps Roger on the right side of a bad guy.  When he bites off more than he can chew by setting his sights on big-shot security chief Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), it goes a long way in shining a sympathetic light on the increasingly desperate Roger as matters go from worse to horrible.  Yet none of this occurs without a certain level of black humour attached.  In fact, Headhunters is unexpectedly light in its approach to a rather dark story that includes voyeuristic security guards, a naked gunfight, an identical pair of ginger policemen and an unforgettable tractor escape scene.  It often feels dead wrong to laugh at some of what unfolds, but the material is too wickedly delicious not to.

What makes Headhunters truly standout is how thoroughly smart it is.  In being pitted against alpha male Clas, Roger is not only fighting to survive, but also to overcome his own inadequacies.  In doing so, no loose ends are left untied.  Headhunters doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence, opting to appeal directly to it with its excellent storytelling and satirical moments.  Yet, the film doesn’t overreach; there is a fair share of gore (which the camera tends to linger on) and one very large poop gag.  Despite the spectrum of layers, Headhunters never hits a bum note as the elements come together seamlessly.  If there’s a point of contention, it’s with how brazen Clas is in his pursuit of Roger.  The disregard for subtly or stealth feels a bit too over the top and more in line with a crazed serial killer than a viciously cunning businessman. However, the great twists and turns that lie in store more than make up for the minor issues within the plot.

Director Morten Tyldum’s casting is spot on as Hennie’s performance is vital to the success of Roger as a relatable, likable character.  With just the right amount of compensatory swagger, it takes little convincing to root for him against the domineering prowess of Coster-Waldau’s smug Clas, Hennie’s physical and aesthetic opposite.  As Roger’s wife, Lund makes the jump from film critic to actor and more than holds up her end as the discontented Diana.  The supporting performances deliver as well, with Eivind Sander’s Ove being particularly enjoyable.

Headhunters is an excellent crime thriller tinged with comedy that standouts among its contemporaries from any country.  Of course, that the film is Norwegian means that Hollywood has the book in its sights for its own adaptation.  However, Tyldum and co have set the bar quite high with their near flawless effort and Aksel makes a star turn that could open many doors for him internationally.  Beyond all that, Headhunters is flat-out enjoyable; smart, funny, and yes, violent it makes no compromises, all to the benefit of the audience.  Be sure to see it and then queue up to complain about how pointless the American remake will be, because it’s hard to see how Headhunters can be bettered. 9/10

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About LondonFilmFan

Amateur film critic and photographer residing in sunny London.

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