Review: Headhunters (Fantastic Fest)
PLOT: Roger is a corporate headhunter with Short Man Syndrome makes up for his perceived inadequacies with a trophy wife, fancy cars, a sterile mansion and a side-job stealing priceless works of art to afford all that stuff. But when he steals from the wrong person, he's forced to leave all his prized possessions behind and fight for his life.
REVIEW: HEADHUNTERS is a Norwegian film but like many films at Fantastic Fest, it's something I can easily see Hollywood picking up and trying to remake. It's a whip-smart "heist gone wrong" thriller escalates its tension to an almost comical degree with every scene as it builds to a startling and exhilarating conclusion.
When we first meet Roger, he's an awful hard guy to like - think one of Patrick Bateman's cronies. He's a smarmy little dick who cheats on his wife, blows off her repeated attempts to discussing starting a family and steals on the side to pay for her expensive purses. He uses his corporate recruiting interviews to case his potential victims. Do you have a family? A dog? Who stays home with your kids? This is supposed to be the guy we're going to be cheering for throughout the film? It seems almost impossible but like ATTACK THE BLOCK, the film does a marvelous job of taking a character we initially find reprehensible and allowing him to redeem himself as he finds himself in increasingly humbling situations.
His biggest target yet - a German piece of art worth over $100 million - is not only selected for the potential financial windfall, but also because the owner is a handsome alpha male type who Roger believes his wife is a little too flirty with. He'll get the money and put this guy in his place. But when his accomplice is poisoned with a needle meant for Roger, he realizes that someone is on to their plan and their attempts to escape only escalate into more and more trouble. HEADHUNTERS reminded me a bit of David Fincher's THE GAME, where a pampered, corporate executive is forced into a series of increasingly bizarre adventures that break him down and rebuild him as someone who can appreciate his life. But the action in HEADHUNTERS is no game and Roger, now completely in over his head, is truly in danger as the body count rises around him.
Director Morten Tyldum puts Roger in increasingly preposterous situations as his own paranoia builds and fears he can trust no one. Someone is chasing him down and he doesn't know why (is it even the artwork at this point?) but each attempt to get out of the frying pan only lands him in the fire. As the situation gets more and more intense, Roger is forced to turn to more and more desperate measures to survive and, as I mentioned before, it almost borders on comedic. One scene, where Roger is cornered in a backwoods outhouse, is a perfect metaphor for our hero's journey. He's literally going to have to leave his Brooks Brothers world behind and sink down into the shit if he wants to survive.
Askel Hennie is fantastic as Roger and plays his descent into paranoia-fueled desperation with a delicate touch, never letting the character become too much of a caricature. That we eventually come to root for his survival, despite being a guy we wouldn't want to spend much time with, is a testament to his performance.
Like all good crime-thrillers, HEADHUNTERS drops subtle hints about its mystery as it progresses so that when the third act arrives, nothing feels out of the blue. There are some wonderful surprises but none of the them feel cheap - they feel earned because they call back to moments Tydlum was smart enough to slip in casually throughout the film. It's a highly intelligent script, which explores such themes as greed, revenge, trust and corporate ethics, that earns each and every moment with its careful planning. You may think you know where the film is headed, but it continues to defy your expectations in uniquely satisfying ways.
HEADHUNTERS is one of the best suspense-thrillers I've seen all year and a fine example of how a "man-on-the-run" film should work.