Let me start off by saying that I love me a good foreign movie. I'm the type of person who quickly tires of the tropes of Hollywood filmmaking and longs for a freshness and vitality that can only be found with subtitles underneath. I'm partial to the Asian Action/Thrillers, from 'Infernal Affairs' to 'Oldboy'; the French Drama/Thrillers - 'Tell No One' and 'A Prophet'; the Scandinavian Crime/Thrillers such as 'The Pusher Trilogy' and 'The Millenium Trilogy'. You might have noticed a familiar through-line - the Thriller subgenre. Perhaps due to somewhat more lax censorship, or maybe even an unexplained cultural phenomenon: the foreign market doesn't get their kicks from gore and sex, filmgoers instead get their thrills from the twists and turns of a good story and, as such, the filmmakers tend to deftly imbue their films with seemingly effortless elements of the Thriller genre.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays Clas Greve - Brad Pitt crossed with Patrick Bateman
And 'Headhunters' is no different. Morten Tyldum's Norweigan outing, based off of the novel by Jo NesbÝ, is as outlandish and unclassifiable as it is tense and, for lack of a better word, thrilling. Meet our hero, Roger. The first time we see him is in a balaclava, cutting a rare painting out of its frame, surgeon-like, with his scalpel and unwavering hands. Turns out, Roger (a pitch perfect Aksel Hennie), a corporate headhunter by trade, has a very expensive lifestyle - one that his trophy wife is very insistent that they maintain, hence Roger's time spent moonlighting as an art thief. The movie's opening throws us for a curve ball. I mean, there's a movie, in itself, to be made about a creepy looking blonde guy that looks like he should be in a German expressionist electronica band who steals expensive paintings. But, no. That's not where we're headed.
Aksel Hennie's Roger Brown - Skarsgaardian blonde hair, Buscemian bug-eyes
Roughly a quarter of the way into the movie, things take a drastic turn. Largely in part to Roger's unfortunate run in with the ex-military Clas Greve, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who might be familiar to some as the oh-so-dreamy Jaime Lannister on HBO's Game of Thrones. Greve makes it clear to Roger's wife that there's a painting in his apartment that would pay the entire mortgage on their ugly modernist house and then some. Roger likes the sound of this. The heist goes off without a hitch. But when Roger's accomplice winds up dead and Roger is forced to go on the run from Greve, that's where his problems start.
And problems there are indeed. One of the things that makes 'Headhunters' so exciting is its unpredictability. You might think you've got the next twist worked out, only for the movie to plant a seed of doubt in your mind and make you question everything you thought you knew. On top of that, there's blacker than black humour running through the whole movie, a very Coen Brothers-esque sense of schadenfreude, watching our lead character go through hell and come out the other side, covered in equal parts human excrement and human innards (both scenes that will make you spit-take, so keep fluids away from your mouth).
Headhunters' is a film with a slow-burn start, one that won't hold your hand, but one that rewards greatly for sticking with it. You'll need someone on hand to constantly scoop your jaw off the floor as Roger is put through more and more outrageous trials and tribulations. It's the type of film that could almost put you off going back to Hollywood films altogether. I'd happily live in this cold, steel-blue, sharply intelligent, hilariously dark, world of Scandinavian Thrillers for a while longer.
Pleased to find a literate opinion on this movie pre-opening (at least in the States). The novel was a good page-turner, and I too enjoy some of the pleasures to be found in Scandi cinema. Looking forward to time in the dark with this one.