Scandinavian films, and especially those based on Scandinavian novels, have suddenly come to the fore of domestic moviegoers’ minds with the original Swedish Millennium trilogy and David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Norway’s version of the theme, an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Jo Nesbø (who helped write the film), Headhunters, provides a lot of the same thrills with a lighter tone, but some plot points may leave the audience scratching their heads.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is living a dream life, but it’s one he can’t possibly afford. He’s one of the top headhunters in Norway, and his ability to read people leads some of the country’s top businesses to trust his judgment absolutely. But that income isn’t quite enough, and he has to supplement it by stealing art, applying the same meticulous thought and planning in considering executive candidates to fill top positions to how best steal their paintings while they’re on the interviews he’s arranged. He’s also suspicious of his wife, who’s opening an art gallery, and he’s breaking up with his mistress. Finally, he has a new position that he’s having a difficult time filling at a company creating GPS technology. Enter Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who’s just come back to Norway after an early retirement from one of the firm’s top competitors. He’s a perfect candidate; add to the mix the valuable painting found in a relative’s apartment, and Roger has seemingly everything going for him. But a discovery changes things, and Roger turns against Clas. And Clas, whose past as a former mercenary Roger only thinks he understood, isn’t prepared to take things lightly, and Roger has to deal with an angry man with a particular set of skills and a ruthlessness he wasn’t ready to deal with.
There’s a lot to recommend in Headhunters. Hennie is asked to convey someone who’s outwardly confident to everyone, but is ultimately masking both his own double-life and a lot of very serious self-doubt. As Roger’s life comes apart and he’s forced to flee from Clas, he seems legitimately terrified, and serves as a great stand-in for the audience during some of the most intense escape sequences you’d want to see. He also gets to show very real vulnerability in some of the most intense scenes of a real relationship you’ll likely ever see in a thriller.
Coster-Waldau, best known to American audiences from roles in Game of Thrones and Black Hawk Down, is subtly terrifying as Clas. He’s a hunter after prey, seemingly responding to every move his quarry makes with ease. That he always seems three-to-four steps ahead just seems to force Roger’s efforts to become all the more desperate.
Director Morten Tyldum ably keeps up the pace when the action sequences arrive, and audiences need not fear having difficulty telling characters apart while reading subtitles. It’s brighter than either Dragon Tattoo film, so audiences concerned with darkness shouldn’t worry. Be warned, though, there are some very graphic scenes depicting Roger’s escapes that may upset audiences, including once from an outhouse. Another, involving an escape from a wrecked car features some graphic depictions of the result of the wreck, as well as some brutally emotional work from Hennie.
Like other films of its type, including the Millennium films, there is a twisty-ending, though it’s not a total mind-bender that audiences will really struggle to understand, though there may be some legitimate questions.
What may drive some audiences to wonder, however, is the reveal about what really drives Roger’s self-doubt, and his doubts about his wife. It’s hinted at early, but there is a sort of rug-pulling feel to it. It feels like there should be something more significant driving him, and some audiences may feel disappointed. The stakes, frankly, actually feel a little low. There are also a few supporting characters whose roles are given somewhat short shrift, considering the importance they hold in the plot. The character of the mistress, for example, is not really explored in depth, especially in light of the attention focused on Roger’s wife, and how much he obviously cares for her. But fans of the Millennium films, as well as thrillers in general, will really enjoy Headhunters. Hennie is a great find for an American audience, as the type of actor you brag about seeing before he hits Hollywood. There are some legitimately great-looking action sequences and a fun twist that won’t leave audiences in knots.