Headhunters (directed by Morten Tyldum) is a crime thriller based on Jo Nesbo’s 2008 best seller of the same name and produced by the people that brought us the movie adaption’s of the Stieg Larsson trilogy. Don’t let that fact fool you into expecting more of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” however, as Headhunters is nowhere near as dark.
Roger Brown (Askel Hennie) is a well respected high-powered headhunter who prizes reputation above all else. He has a beautiful model-esque wife named Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) and together they live in a model home. The last thing Roger would want you to notice about him is his un-model-like stature, in other words . . . he’s short. He cannot actually afford his dream lifestyle but deems it necessary in order to distract those around him (especially his wife) from his short comings in the height department. In order to help keep up the facade he works as an art thief on the sly. His two roles work in conjunction with each other — he uses the meetings with the clients he head-hunts to find out everything he needs to know about them in order to steal expensive works of art from them. Genius!
At an art exhibition Diana introduces Roger to a friend of hers who turns out to be a perfect fit for both roles. Not only is Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) ideal for a position at rival GPS firm Pathfinder, he’s also thought to possess a rare Rubens worth a multi-million dollar fortune. However, in order to successfully schmooze Clas, Roger must first get his suspicions under control that Clas is sleeping with his wife behind his back.
Headhunters is a highly stylized film, especially in the first few scenes where Roger introduces us to his idyllic lifestyle (it felt like watching the moving equivalent of an IKEA catalogue). In the accompanying narrative Roger tries to convey to the audience the same impression he tries to give everyone around him which is that he’s a bit of a bastard. The fact that these scenes are interspersed with scenes of Roger cheating on his wife and the fact that for some unknown reason Roger refuses to give his wife a baby, confirm that he is indeed as heartless as he makes himself out to be. He appeared to need to have it all externally in order to hide the fact that he has no substance internally. Headhunters is also a very structured film. It’s very much divided into chapters and despite any initial dislike of Roger, he surprisingly manages to claw his way back from the lowly realms of heartless bastard during the 100 minutes of run time.
And all due to an extremely well crafted screenplay by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg it works. While, this is ultimately a crime thriller the film has more than its fair share of pure comedic moments to offset some of the very dark ones and achieving such a difficult balance (as it does) is what really gives it that extra dynamic. What they’ve written is also very touching. After Roger hits rock bottom (he literally goes from headhunter to getting his head hunted), the comedy moments are exchanged for moments of true despair. Now completely vulnerable and on the run, Roger is forced to shave his head raw. Covered in blood (never has a protagonist been covered in more bodily substances throughout a film) and resembling some sort of weird alien/Yule Brenner, Roger experiences a moment of rebirth into resourceful fighter. Stripped of everything he’s held dear, he attempts to make contact with Diana and only then, when completely exposed, is Roger finally able to make some sort of true connection with her. Finally, there’s suspense too — even after the scene of Roger and Diana being reunited it was still unclear as to whether she could be trusted or not. There are lots of different narrative strings intricately woven together to keep audiences guessing the entire way through and the plot takes completely unexpected directions.
Roger’s hair, however, is the true star of this movie. It plays almost as big a role in it as he does, changing to reflect every new phase of the story. Its repertoire included slicked back at the beginning showing “man in control.” Then there was messy showing “man with a distinct lack of control.” Then finally there was shaved depicting “vulnerable fighter.” Roger really steps up to the plate when times get tough for him and becomes almost as loveable as his ever-changing hair by the end. For someone who portrayed himself to be all style and no substance at the beginning, Roger more than disproves his own theory by becoming extremely resourceful in the toughest of situations.
Headhunters brings a fresh new angle to crime/thriller story telling. The end is a little bit of an anti-climax but it doesn’t matter as by that point it will have already won you over as it did me.