Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest coverage, but it hits select theaters this weekend, so it’s time to check it out once more.
Headhunters has an instinct about it that’s cutthroat with a smile. It’s a comedy of errors with a gun pointed at its head, and it all works with an intensity that manages to be thrilling right up to the end.
In the movie, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is in over his head (which he considers already too low to the ground) because he thinks his wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) needs the finer things in life. He’s a well-respected job placement rep, connecting the highest salaries to the biggest companies, but he has to supplement his lifestyle by stealing art. When he catches wind of a new client (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) with a criminal career-endingly expensive lost masterpiece, he jumps at the chance, but there are forces much larger at work which see him running from his life and fighting for his marriage.
First of all, Hennie is bizarrely mesmerizing. He’s got Buscemi eyes and a confident swagger about him even though his neuroses are warn on his sleeve. He takes the character of Roger and delivers a man who is in control on the outside, but has a constant storm tearing apart everything inside. Still, Roger has brought it all upon himself by believing that his wife needs something more than him.
Which is shocking considering he turns out to be one tough son of a bitch. The amount of brutalization and bodily harm that comes to Roger as he marathons his way Fugitive-style through the runtime is considerable. On the other hand, his wife Diana is an accomplished, intelligent, gorgeous woman who slightly towers above him. Maybe there’s something to his height insecurity after all.
The twists and turns of the plot make it feel a bit like Ocean’s One without all the elaborate planning and casino space. Instead, the bulk of the action happens throughout beautifully crummy Norwegian back country, small towns, and the posh downtown of a big city. All of it is shot with purpose, and the action beats are especially strong – delivering kinetic, easy to follow flashes of that good old ultra-violence.
Hennie carries much of the film firmly on his bleeding shoulders, but he’s surrounded by talent. Lund is sympathetic in bringing to life a wife dealing with a husband who’s growing distant; Coster-Waldau is a too-handsome-for-his-own-good presence who is just as strong killing you with a stare as he is laying on the disarming charm; Eivind Sander plays whatever the Norwegian equivalent of a Redneck is – aiding Roger in his art acquisitions by turning off security systems and being remarkably unashamed of his sexual proclivities; and Julie R. Ølgaard rounds everything out as a scorned mistress with some serious boundary issues.
Headhunters is the kind of movie where it asks and earns for a small amount of trust. It’s a tangled web, but all that matters is that it untangles at just the right moment. A puzzle piece drops down that brings a full picture into focus, proving that the production has more than a few brain cells at work behind the action muscles.
Overall, Morten Tyldum has directed a solidly entertaining heist thriller that’s just this side of excellent. It definitely has a keen sense of humor, but it’s also not afraid to smash a guy’s head into unrecognizable mush when need be. That right there is a killer combination.
The Upside: A cool story, an engaging set of twists, stunning violence and a great cast.
The Downside: With all its positives, it’s still a slight film. Fun and brisk but not enduring.
On the Side: Summit Entertainment has already made sure that we’ll all be able to enjoy a watered-down American remake soon!