The protagonist is a compelling sociopath in what is a beguiling thriller. Based on a best-selling Scandinavian novel by Jo Nesbo, Headhunters (Norwegian, in English subtitles) easily recalls the Coen Brother’s crime escalades of “Fargo” (1996) and “Burn After Reading” (2006). This story makes emphasis of the 5’6 height of Roger Brown, a corporate recruiter, who does lots of iniquitous things to compensate for his size. As played by Aksel Hennie, he looks like Christopher Walken’s villain, Max Zorin, from the James Bond thriller “A View to a Kill” 25-plus years ago. He claims to love his art gallery collector wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), a trophy blonde if there ever was one, and to appear as the world’s greatest husband he buys her lots of jewels and gems. But, come on, on his salary?! Something’s up with this guy.
To subsidize his expensive tastes, he engages in art theft from his wealthiest clients by breaking in and replacing priceless works with forgeries. He has been able to succeed for years thanks to plenty of resourceful underworld connections. Roger gets tangled in the story with another sociopath far more sinister than he, and the story’s second half gets surprisingly gory. It does this without short-changing the nifty macabre wit of the script.
The adversary is Dutch tycoon Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, “Game of Thrones”) who is a lascivious cross between David Beckham and Sean Bean. Clas got rich off of GPS technology, but now looks to retire at a young age to enter full-time lothario-dom and, perhaps, malfeasance for hire.
From the get-go, at an art gallery event, Roger can tell that this playboy wants to bed his wife. Roger, obviously having read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” tactfully handles this by bringing his enemy closer and propositioning him. Roger attempts to reel him into a CEO position he is trying to fill for a major tech corporation, and sees the opportunity to bilk his opponent’s art stash. Clas has one painting that could be worth one hundred million dollars.
Inevitably, Roger has challenged the wrong man. After a number of wicked circumstances, Roger goes on a run for his life. The incidents are so ghastly that you wonder if instant death would be an easier way out. The adventurous elements involve guns, knives, garroting weapons, mini-pellet tracking devices, a poisonous syringe, drowning half-consciously, a pitbull, a backhouse toilet, a tractor, and at a peak sequence a out of control semi-truck on a curvy mountainous road.
“Headhunters” is a thriller with a lot of twists and turns that tips over into some preposterousness. The writing (by Nesbo) and directing (by Morten Tyldum), deftly handles this problem by injecting a grandiose what-if-it-could-happen curiosity (we tend to forgive the over-the-top factor when the outrageousness is creative). It’s undeniably exciting to see a thriller when you have no idea at any time what the main character is going to do, since he’s so snaky himself. You kind of like Roger Brown in that Christopher Walken way.
100 Minutes. Rated R. Norwegian in English subtitles.
FOREIGN FILM / VIOLENT THRILLERS / FRIDAY-SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Fargo” (1996); “The Square” (2008, Australia); “I Saw the Devil” (2011, South Korea); “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011).