The search for a successor to Stieg Larsson’s crime fiction crown appears to have ended at the doorstep of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø, author of the internationally acclaimed Harry Hole series. Bowing to pressure, Nesbø has given his blessing for the first adaptation of one of his standalone bestselling novels, the deliciously dark crime thriller HEADHUNTERS.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) would appear to have all the trappings of success: an expensive post-modern house straight from an episode of Grand Designs; a beautiful (and taller) wife (Synnøve Macody Lund); but most importantly, an impeccable reputation as a corporate headhunter. When not spending time with his mistress, Brown funds his profligate lifestyle and his wife’s newly opened art gallery by dabbling in a little art dealing of his own, stealing rare paintings from his corporate clients with the aid of his friend Ove (Eivind Sander). When Brown meets a mysterious new client, Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) owner of a rare Rubens painting, the proverbial ‘one last job’ presents itself. Despite initial reservations, Brown decides to steal the painting, only to find his seemingly ordered existence begin to unravel as he has to survive and outwit his own deadly headhunter.
The sadistic life or death ordeals he endures resemble an earth-bound purgatory …
Avoiding the grand conspiracy narrative of THE GIRL WITH A DRAGON TATTOO series, HEADHUNTERS does share with those novels an interest in the murky realms and extremes of human behaviour, but without a sympathetic central protagonist. Roger Brown is nonetheless an interesting anti-hero, one who shares in voiceover his nagging self-doubts (centred on his 1.68 metres height) but masks them from others behind the veneer of confidence and social status.
When Brown unwittingly engineers his fall from grace, the film comes into its own with a gleeful air of schadenfreude pervading proceedings. The sadistic life or death ordeals he endures resemble an earth-bound purgatory that at times strays into blackly comic territory. Thanks in large part to a physically and emotionally committed performance from Aksel Hennie, one does begin to feel a smidgen of sympathy towards Brown’s emasculation at the hands of Greve (a suitably menacing turn from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau).
Despite some plot contrivances feeling a tad convenient the film is carried off with much gusto by Morten Tyldum’s slick and pacy direction, allowing little time to ponder some of the sillier aspects of the story. Unsurprisingly, the American rights to shoot the novel have recently been acquired though it remains to be seen whether some of the more unpalatable elements and black humour will remain intact. In these austere times, HEADHUNTERS offers a deliriously entertaining, albeit cautionary tale of the value of living within one’s means.
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