Mark Reviews Movies

Headhunters

HEADHUNTERS

3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Morten Tydlum

Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Eivind Sander, Julie Ølgaard, Baard Owe

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 4/27/12 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 13, 2012

An old standby for thrillers is the story of the wrong man caught up in a conspiracy with which he has absolutely nothing to do and unjustly chased because of the misunderstanding.  Headhunters (Hodejegerne) offers a wicked twist on it: Here, the right man is justifiably pursued but for the wrong reason.  There are plenty of incentives for a few people to want to give Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) his comeuppance or to exact vengeance upon the man.  He is not an honest, good, or even semi-decent individual; he is a liar, a cheat, a thief, a conniver, a petty and insecure man, and the list continues.

At least he's aware of his shortcomings.  He will offer his one endearing trait—at least in the relative privacy of the film's opening narration: his height.  At five and a half feet, he's shorter than almost everyone he encounters in his line of work, which, as the title suggests, is a corporate headhunter—spotting potential candidates for high-profile and high-paying jobs and presenting them to companies.

He knows he has spent almost his entire life compensating for his stature; this means obtaining a nice house, an expensive car, and enough money to maintain that lifestyle.  He might not want the house, the car, or the money, but he believes he needs it to keep his most prized possession: his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), whom he does seem to believe is a possession.  Even she—a statuesque blonde—towers over him.  He says he loves her, but even that comes into question when considering the way he views her—with no shortage of jealousy at the looks other men offer her and her own friendly nature, which leads to hand-holding and many hugs—and carries on an affair with another woman (Julie Ølgaard)—until she suggests that the two attend a dinner party together.

We do not sympathize with Roger but rather pity him for his insecurity.  This is, perhaps, enough in a general sense, and it at least provides him some specific motives for his side job—the one that actually affords him the ability to pay for that grandiose lifestyle he thinks he needs.  Whenever Roger meets with a prospective client, he includes a list of seemingly innocent questions about the man's homelife and points out an expensive painting on the wall of his office.  By any chance, Roger teases the prospect, does he have any work of art that might be worth a fortune in his own home?

If so, Roger need only contact Ove (Eivind Sander), who works a home-security company, and schedule the time that his associate will shut off the security system in the prospect's house.  Roger already knows when the victim will be gone; after all, he set up the unknowing mark with an interview for a very prestigious job.  Then it's simply a matter of Roger replacing the art with a replica, fencing the real deal, and collecting a cut of the money.

The layout of Roger's illegal trade is fascinating stuff in its own right, and screenwriters Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg (adapting the novel by Jo Nesbø) do not stop there in the exposition.  There is also the vital character information about Roger and the very real strain upon his marriage to Diana, who appreciates all that her husband's wealth provides her but only wants to start a family with him.  It's a request he refuses to grant her, and his rationale for the decision, revealed very late in the film, is pathetic enough to make us pity him all the more.

The core of the plot begins in earnest with the introduction of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a striking specimen of masculinity who is the complete embodiment of everything Roger is not.  He is a decorated military veteran who was part of a specialized unit that tracked down the worst society has to offer.  He ran a company that creates and markets high-tech tracking technology, and now he wants the chance to take the job for which Roger is searching for candidates.  By the way, Diana mentions, Clas also owns a painting that the entire art community believes was lost during the Second World War.

The rest of the setup follows the path we expect, with Roger stealing Clas' prized painting, but then everything is turned on its head.  Thinking Clas is having an affair with Diana, Roger is less enthusiastic about helping Clas get the position.  At this point, Clas, a man who is probably the last one whose bad side one would want to be on, decides that Roger is in his way and acts in the only way he knows.  Even though a bevy of reasons for Clas to be going after his foe exists, the real motive is the only one in which Roger is probably in the right.  The man's transgressions keep the story's morality firmly in the gray area.

The rest of the film is a harrowing cat-and-mouse game that more than once ventures into absurd terrain.  Even so, director Morten Tydlum maintains an unrelenting sense of propulsion to the chase, which doesn't allow us time to consider any gaps in the plot's logic or the characters' actions.

Instead, Tydlum relies on the nightmarish quality of the specific scenarios (trapped in a car as a massive semi hurtles towards it, stuck among dead bodies, cornered in an outhouse with only the most unpleasant route available, etc.) and the unstoppable force always at Roger's heels (The question of how Clas manages to follow Roger at every turn becomes a major point of agony for the pursued as begins to suspect the only person he thought he could trust), creating an overwhelming feeling of dread.  Some of these situations possess a deranged sense of humor, like when Roger decorates a tractor with a vicious dog and has no time to clean up the mess before having to escape again.

Headhunters is an insane thriller in which form easily trumps—while still complementing—the material's inherent madness.  It is so effective that we not only overlook any questionable leaps in the film's logic in the moment but also want to actively find a way to excuse them after the fact.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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