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By Philip Martin

This article was published June 8, 2012 at 2:40 a.m.


Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a sociopathic former mercenary who’s looking for a corporate job in the Norwegian thriller Headhunters.

— Watching Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters is sort of like being mugged by a banshee: It’s all very loud and exciting and after it’s over you’re left with a vague feeling of unease to go along with the lighter wallet. If someone asks you to explain, you might be hard-pressed to say what just happened.

That’s exactly what happened to me anyway - the day after we watched this insane and entertaining Norwegian suspense thriller, my closest friend asked me to explain one of the major character’s motivation. And I couldn’t. We went back over the movie pointby-point trying to remember exactly why the sociopath from Game of Thrones was acting as he did, and I muttered some mush about him being a sociopath, so what did you expect? “And you expect to review this film?” she rejoined.

So we did something I almost never do - we looked up Roger Ebert’s review of Headhunters. (Sure enough, Mr. Ebert supplied us with an answer, incrementally increasing the incalculable debt I already owe him.) But I stand by the answer I gave my closest friend: It’s not really important if things make sense or not.

After all, we’re watching a stylish, over-the-top Scandinavian crime thriller that pits one unlikable criminal against another. Understanding is hardly a prerequisite to enjoyment - in fact, if you try too hard to follow all the story’s twists and turns you’re liable to miss the point of this particular thrill ride. The best way to receive Headhunters is as a document from a bizarro world that only looks vaguely familiar.

Like the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films (the success of which probably accounts for Headhunters’ U.S. release), the film is set in an off-white land where functional modern design abuts an Old European flintiness. Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter who is compensating for his diminutive size - at 5 feet 6 inches, he’s barely taller than Tom Cruise - with a blond Valkyrie wife named Diana (Synnove Macody Lund) whom he has installed in an architecturally marvelous home he can’t afford on his salary as a corporate recruiter (i.e., headhunter).

So in order to support himself and his beloved in the cool comfort to which they’ve become accustomed, Roger moonlights as a cat burglar specializing in the theft of works of art. His is a sophisticated business that involves replacing the stolen articles with copies (cheap ones will suffice, because the people who own these works barely look at them) by an accomplice who works for a leading security firm and ridiculously high overhead in proportion to modest returns. (His fences will pay only about 20 percent of what a hot work might be expected to bring at auction.)

This means poor Roger is stressed out, which is probably the reason he has taken a mistress, Lotte (Julie Olgaard), whom he dumps as quickly as she imagines their relationship as something more than a way for him to blow off steam. It’s no good if she thinks of them as a couple.

So when Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) enters his life, Roger feels like Yule Nisse has come early. Clas is not only a hot executive talent who has just taken early retirement and is a perfect fit for a position Roger’s trying to fill, he has also just inherited a priceless Rubens from an aunt whose Nazi lover stole it and stashed it with her before perishing in the war. Things are looking up for old Roger.

But then Roger discovers that Diana has been cheating on him with the impeccably groomed Clas. And so he spitefully sabotages his new client’s chances at winning the plum position.

This, as it turns out, is a terrible blunder that results in Roger’s world being turned upside down, as he finds himself pursued by all manner of folks from both sides of the law, including the vengeful Clas, his faithful hound, and a couple of Nordic twins who look like they’re auditioning for a McGuire twins bio-pic. As he runs, he undergoes a series of degradations, which include submerging himself in the unthinkable and hacking off his flowing blond locks.

All of this somehow makes this nasty piece of work a figure worthy of our empathy - or at least we want to see him pull out the big stick a la Buford Pusser. Which he does, to weirdly satisfying effect.

I’m not sure any of it means anything, and the movie’s ending is morally dubious and far-fetched, but Headhunters is an undeniably strange and bloody affair which is likely to be remade by Hollywood, which will invariably tone it down and inject it with a homily. This is the version you want to see.

Headhunters 87

Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund, Eivind Sander

Director: Morten Tyldum

Rating: R, for violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity

Running time: 100 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 06/08/2012

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