Headhunters (2011) – Film Review

★★★★✰ Jo Nesbo's Headhunters is a smart, slick Norwegian-German production. Nickolaj Coster-Waldau stars in this European thriller.

If you asked someone to name a critically-acclaimed Scandinavian suspense film based on a book, you would automatically get The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not anymore. Headhunters, a smart, slick Norwegian-German production proves that the Millennium series is no fluke. With Nickolaj Coster-Waldau (TV’s Game of Thrones) adding a bit of glamour and familiarity to it, this rightly puts the film in the upper-echelons of European thrillers.

The film begins with a head hunter Roger Brown (Askel Hennie) revealing his life and occupation, as well as what he does on side – steal art paintings. Unfortunately one day he picks the wrong target, Clas Greve (Nickolaj Coster-Waldau), a recent acquaintance of his wife’s.

Clas is a former special forces operative who now works for a weapons technology company. Little does Roger know, but Clas has actually set him up to get access to a particular client of his, using an important art painting as a ruse to get him interested. When Roger discovers that his wife is cheating on him with Clas, he decides to pull the plug on any deals he can broker for Clas. This, of course, is the wrong move that results in plenty of twist and turns as Roger desperately seeks to escape the unstoppable, cold Clas.

Even though this is a run-of-the mill crime story, you are immediately drawn into the intriguing world of the protagonist and his contrasts; the very un-Scandinavian sounding Roger Brown is a typically Scandinavian looking man. He’s a head hunter but an art thief. Confident but self-conscious about his short height. Loves his wife but is cheating on her. Everything about him unravels as the film progresses and as his situation becomes more desperate, you can’t help but be dragged into it.

It is particularly nice to see a film that is not restricted in any way – you sense that there were no inhibitions, to just roll with the story and not be concerned with what may offend, what may be suitable and most telling of all, what may hinder the flow and interest of the film. For example, the need to see a man’s face caved in is not to shock (even though it is shocking) but to accentuate what Roger had to see and experience to survive.

But it’s not the fact that the film can get away with blood and guts: it’s also emotional and witty, without ever feeling as though these elements are out of place. Make no mistake though, this is a tense, old-school chase which doesn’t let up the cat-and-mouse game that hooks you onto every bit of sweat from the sheer panic Roger goes through.

Alas, there are some imperfections . Roger is not nearly as likeable as he should be and Clas is not nearly as despicable as he ought to. This leaves a conflicting set of emotions on how to feel about Roger’s fate; there are times you find yourself rooting for Clas because Askel Hennie plays his role so naturally arrogant. It also doesn’t help that Clas is the conventional good-looking type, probably too much so to be that of a cold-blooded killer.

The suspension of disbelief is a big part of enjoying this too. If you sense that Roger has an air of invincibility about him, you wouldn’t be too wrong  – unless it is scientifically possible that being sandwiched between two obese people stops you from certain death in a car crash, even from breaking any bones.

Regardless, you are headed straight into some heart-pounding moments and into Roger’s hardening experience – from head-shaving to faeces-wading – that leads him to redemption and us through a rollercoaster ride. Headhunters adds more plaudits to the ‘Scandi Crime’ genre, and it is as refreshing as being by a fjord, with just as many turns. Hollywood has already taken note.

Best scene: The moment Roger has to jump into an outdoor toilet to escape from Clas’s clutches and submerge himself into shit, only being able to breathe through a toilet roll. A truly disgusting, and original, scene.

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