PLOT: A suave but overextended corporate headhunter moonlights as an art thief to help support his lavish lifestyle. When his latest target turns out to be much more than meets the eye, the thief not only has to figure out how get away clean – he has to figure out how to survive.
REVIEW: Coming from the mind of Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, an international sensation whose name has only just begun to ring out in North America, HEADHUNTERS is a twisty, twisted combination of cynical film noir, espionage action-thriller and blood-drenched dark comedy. Destined to divide audiences, it'll enormously entertain those with a like-minded quirky sense of humor, while others will scratch their heads or reach for the nearest barf bag.
Plot centers around a confidant (outwardly, at least) businessman named Roger (Aksel Hennie), a headhunter whose flashy house, incredible car and beautiful girlfriend mask a deep insecurity. He's not particularly handsome, he's short, he's not exactly lovable – he's the kind of guy who dreamed of being rich when he was a kid so he could get girls to like him. In his mind, it'll take lots of money, it turns out, to keep his longtime squeeze Diana (Synnove Macody Lund): he's well over his head in almost every facet of his gaudy existence, and can only subsidize his income by heisting expensive pieces of art from potential clients. Utilizing the help of a crooked security guard, he's able to break into the houses of people he's met, snatch their rare paintings, replace them with phonies, then sell the genuine articles for big bucks. Roger has gotten away with it thus far (because who really ever examines the art in their home?), but these bouts of thievery will still not be enough. If he's going to continue to finance his unrealistic life, he'll need a gigantic score.
Said score appears to come into focus with the emergence of a handsome devil named Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom you may know as Jamie Lannister in “Game of Thrones”). Clas seemingly offers up a dream opportunity to Roger on a silver platter: the revelation that he's recently inherited a near-priceless painting, something that could net Roger millions. The latter salivates over the prospect, and quickly sets into motion the scheme wherein he'll offer Clas a meeting with his bosses, while simultaneously plotting the burglary of Clas' new acquisition. It's gone off before, and it ought to be a piece of cake this time...
You'd be correct in your assumption that Clas, possessing a roguish demeanor and clever glint in his eye, is not the mark Roger is used to. And naturally, his scheme doesn't work out. Not only does it not work out, but things unravel in front of Roger's eyes (and our own) faster than imaginable, and what looked like a simple crime where no one gets hurt devolves into a surreal nightmare of violence seemingly orchestrated by unseen forces and plain old cruel fate.
I'm loathe to spoil the various trials he's subject to, but director Morten Tyldum and screenwriters Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg throw Roger into a never-ending series of predicaments that gradually pick away at his sanity and physical well being. Yet not his resolve: Roger is so heedlessly determined to survive his gradually escalating torment that he begins to resemble a video game character who is gifted with extra lives just so he can move on to the next, even more daunting level. Believability goes out the door somewhere between a fearsome dog attack and a catastrophic plunge off a cliff, but that doesn't detract from the fun of watching him get up time and time again. Roger doesn't start off as a very likable guy, but we eventually root for him because, hell, he's made it this far...
A big part of the film's enjoyment comes from its star; I'm personally unfamiliar with Hennie, but he's apparently a big name in his native Norway and it's not hard to see his appeal: Bringing an unorthodox charisma that's calls to mind the wide-eyed, expressive faces of Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi, Hennie is at once narcissistic and pathetic. That stands in stark contrast to Coster-Waldau's movie star magnetism; playing a villain here as deliciously as he does on “Game of Thrones,” the Danish actor is thoroughly in command of every sequence he's in. The only reason he's not a superstar yet must be his name. (Anyone know how to pronounce it?)
It's the wild tale spun that is the real attraction, though. If Nesbo's novel is as absurd and unpredictable in tone as the film is, then the creative team has done an expert job in adapting the material. HEADHUNTERS' personality, for lack of a better word, is willfully schizophrenic; one scene will be played as serious drama, the next will be preposterous comedy, while the following will delve into the arena of gross-out horror. In that sense, it's not a stretch to say that HEADHUNTERS plays like a Norwegian Coen Bros movie - the way the story wears its eccentricity on its sleeve in depicting a morally corrupt protagonist who thinks he's smarter than he actually is, while bodies pile up comically around him, is very much reminiscent of the Coens' wicked tales of dumb crime and brutal punishment.
But folks who don't dance to that particular tune may have a hard time getting a handle on HEADHUNTERS. Several sequences consist of really nasty stuff; some make-up artist did a helluva job creating a handful of ghastly prosthetics that would be more at home in a torture-porn movie, so you wouldn't be called a wuss for shielding your eyes when the head-shaving scene commences. However, if you come packing an open mind and a sense of adventure (because this is something of an adventure), then you'll find HEADHUNTERS is one of the more energetic crowd-pleasers of the year.
|Extra Tidbit:||HEADHUNTERS opens in limited release on APRIL 27th.|