Headhunters is an Effective, if Tone-Deaf, Crime Thriller

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As a long-standing veteran of the video retail industry, I’m firm in my position that Netflix can jump eyeball first onto a rusty fence post. The selection sucks, the image quality tends to be garbage and the interface is about as intuitive as an Android App designed by a dyslexic 4 year old. But the bastards keep throwing free month trials at me with the kind of manic desperation that isn’t at all surprising given reports of their financial standing, and when I run out of things I rented from my convenient and friendly local video store, I usually troll their selection with the detached lack of enthusiasm I use to pick breakfast cereals.

But lo and behold for once I actually found something I’ve been meaning to watch, Headhunters, a Norwegian thriller starring that smoldery guy from Game of Thrones and what looks lie Steve Buscemi’s nervous brother. I guess miracles do happen.

Headhunters Perth Flyers A5.inddSteve Buscemi guy (actually named Aksel Hennie) plays Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief, stealing high-priced paintings to pay for his extravagant lifestyle and imposing blonde wife. Of course, things take the inevitable turn when Roger crosses paths with Clas Greve (Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an ex-special forces mantracker turned corporate ladder-climber and exactly the wrong kind of person you want to fuck with, especially since he looks like he could set someone on fire with a single intense stare. Pretty soon Roger finds himself caught in an increasingly clustery cluster-fuck, with bodies hitting the ground, corporate schemes, and indications that his wife is fooling around with his new nemesis.

Headhunters starts out very strong with a pretty well-paced first act that does a good job establishing the characters, especially Roger himself. This is important because especially when shit starts hitting the fan, and it does so rather spectacularly, you really do feel for the poor bastard when his carefully constructed life comes crashing down and he finds himself repeatedly heaped with indignities. If you’ve seen the movie you can have a little chuckle and maybe send me a nice email congratulating me when I say he really gets into some shit.

Where things start to get problematic is around the second act when the movie starts to get a little tone-deaf, and what was more or less a straight crime thriller suddenly becomes a black comedy. At one point Roger gets in a chase down a deserted road, coated in dried shit and driving a tractor with a dead dog impaled on the front, and after I stopped laughing I went “wait, how did we get here?”. Or then there’s the scene where he survives a hundred foot or so car crash by being sandwiched between two fat guys in the back seat. But then without warning the movie will switch gears back again and we seem to be expected to take it all seriously, forgetting the dead dog car chase or the fat guy air-bags.

The climax is similarly a bit muddled, attempting to explain the events of the film as being part of some ludicrously overcomplicated corporate headhuntersscheme, a plot twist so hard to swallow that when Roger shouts “Are you people insane?!?” I’m pretty sure he was talking to the writers. Similarly, the ending somehow manages to wrap everything up, and by everything I at least 4 or 5 deaths, in an absurdly neat package, basically pulling a happy ending right out of its ass. I mean there’s contrivance and there’s asking us to swallow a pill the size of one of those world’s biggest pumpkins you see at county fairs while your parents are off admiring someone else’s baked goods.

And I don’t really have anything funny to say about this, but I’m pretty sure they blatantly ripped off some of Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight.

Those problems aside, the movie does definitely have its strong points, mostly in the area of characterization. As I mentioned before, Roger does make for a sympathetic lead, especially once his cool thief mojo drops away and he spends most of the film running around with this panicked, wounded look on his face, like a rabbit being pursued by a very handsome wolf. Synnove Macody Lund also turns out to be pretty effective as the wife, especially later on when more details about her character come to light and her relationship with Roger turns out to be deeper than we thought it was.

Even two years after its release, Headhunters is still building a reputation as an underrated, fun little thriller, and not for good reason. The film has a few problems, mostly those jarring tonal shifts, but it more or less makes up for those with solid characterizations and a plot that never lets you get bored, even if it doesn’t make much sense if you think too much about it.

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