Every now and then a film comes along so quietly, without fanfare, that when it manages to entertain in such a consummate way, I walk out of the theater like a zombie shocked at how great it was. Headhunters is one of those pictures. Not only is it one of the best of the year, it’s also a reminder that sometimes, the most exciting stories aren’t being made in Hollywood or even the U.S. at all. The white knuckle ride is based on Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø’s bestselling novel of the same name. The thriller furthers the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction. It follows in the recent success of the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the most famous entry. The production was such a success in its native Norway, there’s already an American remake in the works. Please see this first.
Roger Brown lives a dual life. Within the law he works as a corporate recruiter, finding talented people who work for other companies and making them lucrative offers to join the firm with which he‘s currently employed. Roger sort of looks like a healthier blonde version of Steve Buscemi. He’s married to a ridiculously tall gorgeous blonde who exacerbates his crushing insecurity that he isn’t good enough for her. You see at 1.68 meters tall (about 5’5”) he’s got a bit of Napoleonic complex. He’s got a mistress as well. In order to keep them both happy he showers them with expensive gifts. That obviously costs a lot of money and so he has taken on a second job of sorts. Here’s where he operates outside the law stealing rare works of art. Then one day he interviews a job candidate who seems to be the perfect match for a new CEO position. He’s a handsome but ruthless technical expert named Clas Greve, played by actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The actor is evil on TV as well as brutal swordsman Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones. Coincidentally Clas Greve is likewise in possession of a rare and priceless masterpiece by Peter Paul Rubens which Roger would desire to own. Upon learning of this, Roger realizes his two worlds are about to collide. Little does he know how catastrophic the merger will be.
What makes Headhunters so ridiculously engaging is how the narrative develops in a way that you cannot guess the outcome. That’s precisely the fun. Like classic suspense of the past, this has the kinds of twists and turns that would make Hitchcock proud. There’s one surprise after another and the developments are innovative in that way. However I can attest, Headhunters is very much an example of modern storytelling that resembles something by Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers. It’s bloody and raw. Think Pulp Fiction or Fargo. If you think those are lofty comparisons, you haven’t seen this movie. Yet there’s a humanism present that sets this apart from those classics and makes this distinctly different. These are people with insecurities and weaknesses that are altogether apparent. In between the action, there is a declaration of love that’s incredibly touching. They still long to be loved. The violence never seems gratuitous, only necessary to emphasize the absolute nightmare of which Roger becomes a part. It’s a drama that starts slowly but as the tale unfolds it seizes the viewer with brute force. It’s pretty over the top. There’s a depiction of an auto accident where I literally forgot to breathe for 60 seconds. But that’s the standard set piece prevalent here and that’s what makes this thriller so exhilarating.