Susan Granger’s review of “Headhunters” (Magnolia Pictures)
The success of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Trilogy” primed audiences for Norwegian crime fiction, along with this film adaptation of Nordic author Jo Nesbe’s best-selling dark-comedy thriller.
Introducing himself in voice-over narration, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a smug recruiter for Oslo corporations. He lives in a spectacular modernist house with a statuesque, trophy wife, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), and he maintains a mistress on the side. In order to finance his extravagant lifestyle, Roger is also an art thief. Working with a sleazy, sex-crazed accomplice, Ove Kikerud (Eivind Sander), Roger steals extremely valuable paintings from the homes of the highly paid executives whose job interviews he has arranged and adroitly leaves replicas in their place.
But his life goes completely awry when Roger targets formidable Danish businessman Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister on HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). A GPS technology expert and former Dutch special-forces mercenary with a history of cold-blooded killings, Clas possesses a priceless Peter Paul Reubens painting that was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941and passed on to his grandmother. Roger wants his wife, who owns an art gallery, to evaluate it but – thanks to a misplaced cellphone – Roger suspects that suave Clas may be having an affair with beautiful, blonde Diana.
Basically insecure and dorky, Roger is honest about his shortcomings, particularly his 5’6” height, but, even as a self-described “risk taker,” he soon realizes he’s ‘way out of his depth. In one particularly memorable ordeal, as the paranoid hunter becomes the degraded hunted, he finds himself covered, head-to-toe, in outhouse excrement.
Screenwriters Ulf Ryberg (“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”) and Lars Gudmestad (“Liverpool Goalie”) cleverly set up the provocative premise, mixing art history, technology and humorous psych pathology, while director Morten Tyldum tries to make the overly tense-and-twisted, preposterous plot somewhat credible – with the help of cinematographer John Andreas Andersen and editor Vidar Flataukan.
In Norwegian and Danish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Headhunters” is a sleek, relentless 7 – with an Americanized remake already in pre-production.