Touted as the next Stieg Larsson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), author Jo Nesbo is enjoying an unprecedented success as a Nordic writer. His novel, Headhunters is already set for the Hollywood treatment, even before the Norwegian film adaptation has hit American theaters. Although, having seen the film that really comes as no surprise, since less than half way through the screening I knew somebody in Los Angeles would be jumping to remake it. I just didn’t realize they had already jumped.
I’m not going to give a break down of the plot because it’s too much fun experiencing the clever “Hitchcockian” storyline as it unfolds (I don’t know why so many reviewers neglect that consideration). What I will tell you is nothing more than what the film sets up in the first ten minutes of screen time. The immensely appealing Aksel Hennie (an actor who looks like he could be the offspring of Steve Buscemi and James Spader) plays a diminutive, yet dapper bon vivant who works as a successful headhunter in the cutthroat world of Norwegian recruitment consulting – we’re talking Fortune 500, CEO level here. He negotiates the hiring of men who make millions on their severance packages and gets a tidy salary in return.
However, his lifestyle (complete with a ridiculously fashionable house and even more fashionable wife) requires more than even his impressive income will allow. So, he uses his unique position to obtain information about his client’s personal possessions, and then arranges the theft of only the most valuable art objects. The trouble comes when he tries to steal an extremely rare painting from a man he doesn’t realize is a former mercenary. That’s when his supposedly “final big score” goes horribly wrong, and mercilessly continues to go from bad to much, much worse. Apparently, there’s a lot more to this ex- mercenary than just his military training, and the more Hennie learns the more he realizes the odds are already well staked against him.
In a fashion reminiscent of North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief, director Morten Tyldum (helming only his third major motion picture) takes Hennie on an exhausting, nightmarish ride as a man on the run, unable to appeal to authorities or loved ones for help. He may not be a Cary Grant, but Hennie certainly holds up as a Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, or even Robert Cummings in Saboteur, as the hero on the run who must quickly think on his toes in order to survive one outrageous turn of events after another. And newcomer Synnøve Macody Lund is wonderful as the gorgeous blonde wife (ala Grace Kelly or Eva Marie Saint) who may or may not be a femme fatale collaborating to ensnare her increasingly paranoid husband.
And then there’s the suave and sophisticated Nikolaj Coaster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) in the role of the perfect villain. He relentlessly pursues Hennie with the cool charm of a modern day James Mason (I can’t seem to keep away from the Hitchcock references). Although his character contributes to the moody atmosphere as the story progresses, the director manages to play his emerging evil against Hennie’s increased vulnerability, maintaining an undertone of light-heartedness throughout the picture.
Even in the most chilling moments, when death and destruction abound there is a touch of black comedy that plays nicely between the well-matched contenders – an element abandoned by today’s Hollywood filmmakers. Let’s hope that those handling the American remake won’t lose site of this, or any of the other many elements that make Headhunters the exceptional film that it is. Of course, the original is so good I really can’t see how remaking it could possibly be a successful venture. I’m betting that it won’t.
Headhunters has already opened in Los Angels at The Landmark 12 on Pico near Westwood Blvd. It’s also currently playing at three theaters in New York City; the Empire 25 Theaters, the Beekman, and the Sunshine Cinema 5. The film will continue to open wider across the Los Angels area as well as the rest of the country throughout the month of May, so be sure to check your local listings and seek this gem out before your only option is to settle on the Hollywood version. If you do, you’ll certainly be missing out on one of the best suspense thrillers to hit the screen in ages. And until Hitchcock returns from the grave this is the best you’re going to get in shocks, surprises and playful dark humor. Who could ask for anything more from a summer film?