I can’t remember the last time a movie surprised me as much as Headhunters: not just its story twists and turns, which are considerable, but its continual stripping of character veneer and overall audaciousness left me breathless. I haven’t read any of the growingly-popular novels by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø (whose reputation has grown in the past few years, possibly in the wake of Sweden’s Stieg Larsson), but if this is indicative of his storytelling skills, I’m impressed.
The film captures our attention right away by introducing us to its highly unlikely “hero,” a smug, high-level corporate headhunter who plays to win. He’s even won himself a beautiful wife, although he admits that the expensive, ultramodern house in which they live is more her taste than his. Then he explains, in voice-over narration, that he has a second source of income to support his expensive lifestyle: he is a successful art thief. When his wife opens a stylish new gallery and befriends a newcomer who happens to own a valuable Rubens painting, he simply can’t resist going after it, with the help of a partner who works for a home-security firm.
To reveal much more would rob the film of its many layers and revelations; let’s just say that it matches its plot complications with scenes of action and suspense that rival any Hollywood has to offer.
Actor Aksel Hennie, who plays the job recruiter/thief is a popular star in Norway, but this demanding and wide-ranging performance should put him on the world stage. Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize the movie’s second male lead, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, a robustly handsome man who throws several monkey wrenches into Hennie’s plans. (He’s also appeared in two films for director Ridley Scott, Black Hawn Down andKingdom of Heaven.)
Director Morten Tyldum realizes all the potential in the ingenious script by Lars Gudmstead and Ulf Ryberg (whose credits include the screenplay of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest and one episode of Wallander). My wife, who read Headhunters, actually likes the film better than the novel, and tells me that the screenwriters made one substantial change involving the female characters. Whatever they did, it works.
Headhunters is a sleeper that ought to generate strong word-of-mouth. A Hollywood studio is already preparing a remake, but I doubt if an American filmmaker will pull off the story with the same gutsiness that marks this striking Norwegian import.