The appetite for Scandinavian thrillers shows no sign of relenting. The Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millenium’ trilogy spawned a lucrative Hollywood remake as well as achieving global distribution and a substancial return at the international box office. The Danes lead the way on the small screen with The Killing proving popular, picking up awards on either side of the Atlantic. It comes as no surprise therefore to see Norway getting in on the act with an adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s bestseller, Headhunters. The film has already achieved distribution in more than 50 countries and set a record for Norwegian cinema in the process. The money men are at least hoping that Nesbo’s noir can elicit similar returns to its triumphant forerunners.
The protagonist of this disposable piece is Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) – an executive recruitment consultant with a self-diagnosed case of ‘small man syndrome’ who moonlights as an expert art thief to bankroll his luxurious lifestyle. Finding that Munch lithographs barely cover the bills, he is introduced to the fiendishly handsome Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a high-flying ex-CEO and former member of the Dutch Special Forces. Brown, threatened by seeing his wife understandably enchanted by a man infinitely more attractive than him (Hennie appears to be Norway’s version of a young Steve Buscemi), resolves to take him down a peg or two by pilfering his rival’s priceless Rubens. Thus begins a deadly game of cat and mouse with the headhunter becoming the headhunted that leads us at break neck speed into a labyrinth of woodland, deserted log cabins and the inside of outhouses.
The pursuit pushes both Brown and plausibility to their very limits as plot devices become increasingly mindboggling. One such machination sees a pair of morbidly obese identical twins inadvertently serve as a set of airbags to our protagonist as a car hurtles off a cliff to the valley floor below. The film manages to strike an odd imbalance between grizzly realism and a sense of smarminess more at home in a Hollywood 12A heist movie. Imagine one of George Clooney’s smug monologues at the conclusion of an Ocean’s 11/12/13/14/15/16 except this time Brad Pitt’s decapitated corpse was still fresh in your memory and Don Cheadle had been brutally impaled by a tractor. It is difficult to say whether director, Morten Tyldum, has a firm grasp on matters or whether his source material is just plain bonkers but it is also difficult to say that Headhunters was not enjoyable. The pace is relentless and the caricatures assembled on screen are entertaining. Just remember to leave your brain in the foyer.