The Nordic crime drama has been gaining popularity in the last few years. It can be traced back to the Martin Beck series of novels from the 1960’s through the Wallander books and to the recent TV shows which proved to be hugely popular in the UK and beyond. The Killing, Wallander (Swedish and English versions), The Bridge and Those who Kill have raised the profile of the region and its TV and film output. While having a thriving film market it has been only recently that the international success of The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo and sequels have opened the way for other films to receive international distribution and a wider and appreciative audience. This year has seen the arrival of the film Headhunters, adapted from the Jo Nesbo novel of the same name. In the UK it gained a high profile release and multiplex distribution. For a non-English film it is a real boost to receive this attention. So does Headhunters meet the raised expectations?
Roger Brown (Askel Hennie) from the outside is every inch the successful businessman. He is one of the top headhunters in the Country. His clients include the top companies in Norway. He is charming and confident. His personal life mirrors his work. He has a beautiful wife Diane (Synnove Maconey Lund) who runs an art gallery, an expensive house and top of the range car. Unfortunately his lifestyle stretches his resources. To top it up he is an art thief on the side. with his gun crazy partner Ove ( Elvin Sander). Roger gains information on works of art in people’s homes via his headhunting. Ove arranges for the alarm systems to be non functioning. Roger then uses his breaking and entering skills to replace the art with copies.
Even with the extra income Roger is struggling and is forced to take more risks. To add to his burden he has issues with his physical height, hi wife who wants to have a family and a mistress who is starting to get clingy. His two jobs collide when his wife introduces Roger to a top business man Clas Geve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who is looking for a new job. On top of that he has a Rembrandt original in his flat. Seeing only the cash signs in front of his eyes Roger quickly finds himself in a situation where he is totally out of his depth. His entire world is shattered and Roger must find an inner reserve of strength to put thing right for himself and those around him.
The interesting thing for me with non-English films is the raised stakes in the story. As someone who is not familiar with the work or renown of the majority of the cast I find that I enjoy the film a lot more than I would if it were a typical Hollywood version with familiar names in the lead roles. Not knowing the actors leads to a heightened tension. You are not sure who will last to the final reel and what way the story will unfold. This you cannot generally say about a Hollywood film with Tom Cruise (for example) in the lead role.
The film moves along at a brisk pace. There are no unnecessary sub plots or extraneous characters to distract from the story. There is a lot of story packed into one hundred minutes. There is a certain amount of black humour that puts a smile on your face even in the bleakest moments.The leads are all well-developed and feel like real human beings. The main character Roger definitely carries the heaviest load. The character is on screen for the majority of the film and goes through several changes, mental and physical. His height issues leading to his need to have a mistress as well as a beautiful wife ring particularity true in a country that has an image of tall strong blonde Norse men.
Some films have a tendency to place a character in an awkward situation only for him or her to suddenly turn into some navy seal type that can kill all their well armed enemies with only a dessert fork. Roger is nothing less than believable throughout, giving the impression that he is not always in control. On the other hand the other male lead , Clas, exudes confidence bordering on arrogance. Cold and calculating doesn’t quite cover it. A top performance from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the only member of the cast I was familiar with through his role as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones.
There is talk of this being remade for an English speaking audience with Summit entertainment securing the rights before the original film was even released. Hopefully the remake will retain much of the originals strong points. I doubt it though.
Overall a highly entertaining and interesting thriller. Highly recommended.