Fantastic Fest Review: 'Headhunters'
Clever, efficient Norwegian thriller raises the stakes with wicked ease
By William Goss Oct 3, 2011 1:10PM
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) admits from the start that his steep career ambitions on both sides of the law are a means of compensating for his short stature. He's a likeable lead with Buscemi eyes and Walken hair, swagger in his step and worry on his face. By day, he's a corporate headhunter, and sometimes also by day, he's an art thief, lifting rare works from their owners while they're tied up with job interviews that he's arranged.
It keeps him afloat even as he lives beyond his means, struggling to ensure that any number of sexy suitors are kept happy. But Roger's about to go too far -- Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has just flown in from the Netherlands, and not only does Roger want to hire him, Roger wants to help himself to a rare painting that belongs to the former mercenary. The problem is, once Roger gets his hands on it, he realizes that Clas A) hasn't arrived by coincidence, and B) won't stop until he gets his man...
What begins as a slick anti-hero outing soon becomes a brazenly entertaining cat-and-mouse thriller, as Roger is forced to go to great lengths to outwit Clas. Director Morten Tyldum doles out increasingly audacious plot developments with an almost palpable sense of glee, as our leading man first loses his much-cherished reputation and sense of status -- he goes from driving a sleek sedan to a beat-up Mercedes to a clunky tractor -- before being steadily stripped of his identity, even down to his hair. Critical moments at which Roger is evading his pursuer can be boiled down to games of hide-and-seek and a staring contest, once-juvenile routines now determining the difference between life and death.
Fun though it is to see Tyldum twist the knife on our protagonist, watching Hennie's performance as he runs the gamut from smooth rascal to scrappy fugitive to a man utterly emasculated is a pleasure unto itself. Coster-Waldau's role is less demanding, but for what's asked of him, he plays a terrific bulldog, suave and steely-eyed, a handsome jock unlikely to be one-upped by the scared, shorter man in his sights.
"Headhunters" opens and closes with Roger's narration, and in between, the film conducts itself with the same cool, collected sense of being that Roger himself loses over the course of the chase. It's a swift, smart, suspenseful thriller, and I won't be the least bit surprised once America manages to remake it.