The latest entry in the wave of Nordic noir that has renewed American interest in crime fiction, Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters is a slick, twisty, and sometimes gruesome little thriller that invokes the best of Hitchcock and the Coen’s Blood Simple, though it doesn’t always run as smoothly.
Aksel Hennie stars as Roger Brown, a man of bland name and small stature who informs us that he’s 5’6″ during the opening narration — a point driven home when he steps into the shower with his towering, stunningly beautiful artist wife Diana (Synnonve Macody Lund). He’s lucky to have her, fearful of loosing her, and desperate to hang on to her while cheating on the side.
Roger has no interest in giving her the children he desires, instead preferring to buy her love with gifts he can’t afford, paying for them with money made by stealing valuable artwork. A successful and highly influential corporate recruiter, Roger uses his interviews to scout for targets. This leads him to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones) a Danish executive who posseses a priceless piece of Nazi war art; its inevitable theft sets of a chain of events that see Roger wanted for more than burglary and chased by killers and cops alike.
Headhunters kicks into high gear once the pieces are in place, and continues at a breakneck speed, and the dark humor, shocking violence, and bizarre twists keep it watchable throughout. On the downside, there is an air of contrivance early on, with bits of plot mechanics that telegraph too much, too soon. Still, there’s enough bloody mayhem throughout to keep viewers on their toes.
The movie’s true energy comes from Hennie, who impressively carries the film, eliciting sympathy for a thoroughly selfish and unsympathetic man with an inferiority complex. Roger learns to stop over-compensating once he is literally and figuratively stripped of everything, and Hennie handles the transformation remarkably.