Headhunters is a slick and twisted new thriller based on Jo Nesbo’s best-selling novel. It’s nothing more than surface pleasures, but director Morten Tyldum keeps the surprises and the perverse fun coming at a breathless pace. There really is a minimal amount of time to stop and consider how ridiculous the whole film is while you’re hurtling off a cliff at 60-mph.
Roger (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter by day and a shallow prick the rest of the time. He also moonlights as an art thief. We’re introduced to his luxurious lifestyle, including his Heidi Klum-like wife, and the means by which he sustains it. At first the film feels like it’s going to be some kind of caper. The first act is intriguing and smooth and I really wouldn’t have minded that film. Then Roger meets Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones) and his double-life takes a turn toward the absurd.
What was once The Italian Job suddenly becomes an existential nightmare. Roger is put through the wringer, as Clas hunts him down in a deadly cat and mouse game. He’s like Griffin Dunne in After Hours, only he’s trapped in a Coen brother’s movie. Everywhere he goes there are new threats waiting and it’s often quite bizarre. He has to contend with dogs, outhouses, semi-trucks, twin obese cops, razors, tractor chases, and more, plus the most suspenseful staring contest ever put on film. Everything apparently hinges on a silly MacGuffin involving microchips and corporate espionage, which is rather outlandish but it’s best to just go along and enjoy the copious amounts of ultra-violence.
The film does have a few emotional beats that work, even if they’re a little hollow. I guess it’s nice that there’s a bit of a lesson tossed into the mix, but the main character isn’t really likable, so why bother? It’s really hard to root for a guy that acts like James Spader and looks like the rapist from The Shawshank Redemption. It makes watching his torment all the more fun. Still, the film has a nice polish, including a glossy Hollywood score. If you squint, you’d swear you were watching a big studio release and not a depraved foreign film with twists and dark humor.
The major benefit of the film going off the deep end like it does is I had zero idea where it was headed from one moment to the next. Even if you go in expecting something weird, I’m not sure you’ll be prepared for all the crazy that awaits you. It’s not shocking or anything, just deranged in the best of ways. Headhunters is the rare trip worth taking just to enjoy the dark side.