Headhunters Review: The Job Market is a Real Bitch
We open in seemingly familiar waters. Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) spends his days as a headhunter for a prestigious high-end firm, and his nights as a daring art thief. It's the only way a short guy like him (his words, not mine) can keep up with the wealthy appetites of his gorgeous statuesque beauty of a wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund). He's got his system down pat - print up a forgery, use his scheming partner Ove (Eivind Sander) at the security firm to break in and out undetected and fence the goods, and profits! Everything's running smoothly, so of course it soon won't be. At the opening of his wife's new art gallery, he meets the stunning handsome and mysterious Clas Greve (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau). Not only is Clas an extremely overqualified potential executive candidate but he also happens to have recently come into a rare portrait given to his recently deceased grandmother by her Nazi lover. Bowling pins have never been set up so blatantly.
And that's where Headhunters is so deftly clever. When watching a magician wave his left hand, anyone remotely familiar with the trickery watches the right hand to see the grift. But director Morten Tyldum doesn't use the right hand. He's got a third hand you couldn't possibly know about. And it's not sleight of hand, he's actually got magical powers. What seems like a heist film becomes a paranoid escape thriller - a super graphic version of "The Fugitive." It's a shell game version of Chekhov's gun. A gun is placed on a kitchen table in the first act, loaded obviously, acknowledged, and hung in a prominent place on the mantle. Then through the rest of the insane story points - involving nanotech hair gel, outhouse feces, and a pair of overweight twin peace officers - Tyldum and the excellent script by Lars Gulmestad and Ulf Ryberg proceed to kill everyone with everything else in the kitchen. And just as we're sitting there covered in flour in the wreckage of the kitchen, he pulls the gun and uses it. But not how you'd expect. Not a single story thread gets wasted and even when the warp and weft change, the final product is fantastic.
The entire cast is dynamic. Synnove Macody Lund has that sort of blonde goddess mystique to her, that kind of frosty ice queen. She reminded me a lot of the terrific Andrea Roth as Tommy Gavin's wife/ex-wife/wife in "Rescue Me." The supporting cast is bursting at the seams with the kind of quirk and mania you'd expect from a Jody Hill comedy. Any one of these characters could be on Danny McBride's resume - and since Summit bought the American remake rights, probably will be - from the dickish farm owner, to the karate obsessed detective, to the gun-nut partner Ove. My experience with Nicolaj Coster-Waldau is limited, but this will get the man even more work that his grand turn as Jamie. It's not just a pretty face part - it's a restrained Patrick Bateman, and he nails it. He's got that same shit-eating grin that he brings to Jamie, and despite his snarling dog psychology, he's got to keep up appearances. Aksel Hennie is the true star of this film, and deservedly so. He's like this insane combination of Owen Wilson and Robert Carlyle. He's a smug little pug with huge eyes and stupid curly hair, a privileged little shit doling out the smarm like Denzel Washington playing those good-bad guys he does so well. He makes Prince Joffrey look a tourist at Wonka's factory. But over the course of the film, he basically has to disintegrate and reassemble, and it's a fucking haunting journey. There's not a chance this film would work without his performance, and he does remarkably.
Headhunters is like watching the head of the Magic Castle do street magic for cynical hipsters. He's just so fucking good, that no matter if you know how the tricks are being pulled off, you're just jaw dropped. While you're picking a card, he's picking your pocket. Then he hands you back your wallet full of rabbits. And the rabbit turns into a cloud of birds. One of which shits the four of diamonds, which was your fucking card. Boom. You've been magicked, trucker hat. It's the rising star for Aksel Hennie, who'll next be (possibly, hopefully) seen in Die Hard 5: The Dieharderering, and it's pudding proof of the talents of Nicolaj Coster-Waldau. And yet another excellent Scandinavian film that will be remade for American audiences. So catch the original recipe if you get the opportunity.