May 6, 2012
The most thrilling movie currently showing at theaters is this exhilarating, brazen Norwegian thriller, based on a novel by Jo Nesbø. Outrageously over the top but in complete command of pacing, plot and story, Headhunters is a masterful thriller. I would be surprised if the rights have not been bought yet for an American remake. I will be surprised if the remake retains what makes this film so compelling: it is driven by a most charming anti-hero. At least he already comes with an Anglo name. Roger Brown (one suspects this is not his real name), is a headhunter at a top executive search company. But he is short, and not very handsome (he certainly seems more attractive as the movie goes along). He is married to a gorgeous woman who towers over him, and he is convinced, in his massive insecurity, that she only wants him for his money. Hence, to retain her and the status she gives him, he gives her a lavish lifestyle he can't possibly afford, which makes him steal art masterpieces in order to pay the bills. Roger is all about arrogance, which is the default mask for insecurity.
To him, it's all about how he appears to others, and boy does he overcompensate.
Aksel Hennie, the extraordinary actor who plays Roger, is a complete discovery. Roger is a skillful, cocky prick. In a rare instance of actually welcome voice over narration, he explains how to rob fine art successfully and why he is who he is. In short, he's short, but what he lacks in stature, he has in spades in spunk. He is always on in public, a mini alpha male, too proud of his ridiculous head of hair, a blond James Brown coif, he is horrible to his mousy, clingy lover, horrible to prospects at job interviews, a nasty piece of work. But we also see the true side of him. He walks into a room already factoring in who's smarter, taller, more handsome than him (most everybody), and the fact that he allows us to see who he really is makes him utterly endearing. This is what makes the movie exciting. It is about a despicable character you end up loving.
It's already suspenseful fun to watch him do his job at stealing art with great precision and panache. But then, the noose around his neck gets tighter: the police are sniffing around, he owes zillions of krone in debt, the wife seems to be looking for attention elsewhere and he realizes someone very dangerous is out to get him. He is put through a series of can you beat this plot twists that are so over the top you can barely believe you are still buying the premise, but you are, on the strength that everything has been meticulously set up and that Roger will do anything to survive. At first it seems that he will do anything to not get caught and be unmasked for the fraud he is, but as he gets literally stripped to the core of his being, he understands what is really important, and manages to change dramatically, while still being his mischievous, manipulative self. I have rarely seen an actor deliver such a rounded, brilliant performance. You root for Roger, because he is brazen, and he is brave and takes on the wrath of the gods by being who he is.
Director Morten Tyldum delivers a perfect thriller. The pacing is fast but always clear, everything works like a charm without feeling mechanical, the movie has amazing swing. The super contrived, fun plot is always driven by character and by the end you almost want to stand up and cheer for awful, arrogant, short, bug eyed Roger Brown, a most unlikely hero. If you want to spend two really fun, exciting hours at the movies, this is the one you should see.