Aksel Hennie is Roger Brown, the lead in Headhunters, based on the book of the same name by Jo Nesbø. Roger is a diminutive man, standing 5ft6 tall and married to Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund, in her acting début). A statuesque, beautiful woman who has given him Napoleon complex, therefore he believes it necessary to impress his wife with lavish gifts to prevent her from leaving him, none of which he can afford. He has driven himself into a corner where his income as a high-flying head-hunter in the recruitment industry isn’t enough, so on the side he is an accomplished art thief.
Despite making a great deal of money on the side, he is still in massive financial strife which could easily be resolved when he hears about some valuable art that has come into the country. This all coincides with Roger’s interactions with ex-military headhunter Clas Greve, who owns the art and is a potential candidate to fill pathfinder’s head manager position. As events escalate Mortem Tyldum’s film pits headhunter against headhunter.
In other films of this type, the protagonist is a normal person who reacts to the events that are beyond their control. Roger’s situation is of his own construction, giving him uniqueness in the euro-thriller sphere. His complicity in allowing his situation to develop as such and the way he treats those around him, whether it is his wife or his accomplice, Ove, make him something of an anti-hero. An anti-hero who deserves what is thrown at him, while he is an unsympathetic lead the story feels like the viewer is enjoying themselves as Roger is surviving the things that are thrown at him. That is the only way it can be described: trucks, a dog and a toilet full of… well, that image doesn’t need to be dwelled upon further, all of it is thrown at Roger.
The ensemble is solid, with Eivind Sander, Julie R. Ølgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness and Synnøve Macody Lund providing low-key performances as the supporting cast. As ever with plots involving two people facing off against each other it’s the two leads that dominate. Aksel Hennie starts off as a unlikeable protagonist but through his suffering and evolution from anti-hero to hero is pulled off with the same underplayed subtlety that the rest of the cast championed. The star is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who steals every scene he is in. Clas Gleve is comparable to Patrick Bateman of American Psycho if he had military training. He is the unrelenting horror archetype, constantly pursuing Roger, never giving up, only he is a friendly guy. Do him wrong and he explodes into a torrent of calculated cool and villainy, offing a small number of people in graphic ways. It’s a show stealing performance from Waldau.
Headhunters is tonally uneven, going through multiple awkward changes. Most of the film follows the norm for the Scandinavian thriller with small but subdued scenarios, violent and bloody but contained. The set pieces may be too rare for an action thriller, but those moments are when tension and atmosphere of Headhunters reaches its apex. There are moments where horror films like Stephen Spielberg’s Duel and the more atmospheric entries into the slasher sub-genre enter the vernacular to highlight the futility of Roger’s plight.
The body of the film is upon solid foundations, problems arise when comedy enters the equation. A comedy which can only be described as wacky thanks to the carry on-like soundtrack accompaniment, which sits awkwardly alongside the dark tones. The films relationship with sex and nudity is presented like the carry on franchise would if those films were born in the age of the internet. Whether or not any of this is funny is entirely in the eye of the beholder, the issue is the score, by playing up the comedy with a carnival-esque backing is akin to the editor and director telling you to laugh, because this bit is funny. If it’s funny, laugh by all means, but this framing makes it dated.
Headhunters has already been discussed as something that could be acquired for a remake and it seems that the director and screenwriters already beat them to the punch in presenting a compromised vision. When Roger develops from anti-hero to sympathetic lead all is lost, gone is the edgy euro-thriller and in its place is a clean and wrapped up film, complete with a hollow, conceited ending. This adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s work does have many great moments, sadly though it suffers from the same problems of many fellow genre pieces, Headhunters is all style and no substance.