Headhunters/2012 Norway/Magnolia Pictures/100 min.
By Michael Wilmington
Think you’ll be bored at a movie about corporate head-hunting and a missing Peter Paul Rubens painting? Not necessarily. The Norwegian neo-noir “Headhunters” may have its flaws – outrageous improbability chief among them – but it’s definitely no bore. In fact, the movie pretty well blasts you away as you watch it, using hot sex, cold brutality, and a twisty, constantly surprising crime plot to put you on the edge of your seat and then try to knock you out of it.
Based on a best-selling novel by Jo Nesbø– Norway’s most popular and highly regarded crime novelist, and the creator of the Harry Hole detective series – “Headhunters” revolves around a diminutive anti-hero, 5’6” Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who works as a headhunter and CEO recruiter, and dabbles in art thievery on the side. Roger, a self-professed “over-compensator,” is also married to an intimidatingly tall and beautiful Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), and he pulls his jobs with the unabashedly pathological heist man Ove Kikerud (Eivind Sander), a violent creep with nerves of ice and a taste for Russian hookers.
Into Roger’s life comes the intimidatingly tall and handsome Clas Greve (Danish actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), an ex-Dutch commando who also happens to have his hands on a long-missing, incredibly valuable Rubens painting, titillating the little headhunter/thief on two levels and maybe more. Roger’s life soon turns into a bloody mess.
The film however is slick and fast and gorgeously shot – if sometimes almost criminally outlandish and over-the-top. Director Morten Tyldum (a Norwegian TV commercial whiz), cinematographer John Andreas Andersen and editor Vidar Flataukan all succeed at times in knocking our socks off or at least getting them pulled pretty far off our toes. The four main actors are all compelling; Hennie and Coster-Waldau make a nice sparky pair of Mutt and Jeff antagonists. You may be irritated by “Headhunters.” You won’t be yawning, unless you were exhausted to begin with.
Norway’s Jo Nesbø is a thriller-writer in the Steig Larsson tradition, mixing sex and violence and social corruption with complex criminal behavior, and generating huge world-wide sales. Nesbø’s noir novels have been published in 140 countries and translated into 35 languages. He also scored the top three places in a recent Norwegian newspaper poll (by the journal Dagbladet) on Norway’s all-time best crime novels – and then took five more slots among the next eight. Hollywood is apparently impressed: Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg are among the names that have been mentioned for the seemingly inevitable American versions.
But I suspect those movies, when they come, may not have quite the pizzazz of the Norwegian novels – as Tyldum’s “Headhunters” apparently does. It’s a racy, violent, hell-on-wheels neo-noir that makes Norway look, for at least a little while like the capitol of fictional crime – and maybe of overcompensation too.
“Headhunters” opens today in New York and LA.