Headhunters is a bracing game of cat and mouse, one in which the motives of the predator are unclear and the prey remains a wild target ready to meet his death at every turn. Designated heroic/villainous tropes are greyed-out, black-and-white hardly an option. The film is morally ambiguous, but I liked it; I like the way karma plays a huge part in its labyrinthine schemes, the way black humor slips in and out like a pink dolphin bobbing out of the water for air, the way the thrills are cruel, efficient, and sleek. Urgency is abiding. The film breathes and thrives as most other action movies move along like an Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman-dragged Bernie. We can’t get enough.
Directed by Morten Tyldum with detail, Headhunters stars Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter who supports his already-hefty salary by stealing paintings from the homes of Norway’s upper class. Grossly confident, he feels no remorse for his actions and lives life like no one’s watching — despite having a statuesque, loving wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) at home, he cheats on her regularly, labeling her desire to have children as another thing she habitually “nags” about.
So when things start to go wrong for this scoundrel of a man, we smirk in delight. Karma isn’t something to ignore, and Roger, though having it all, should have been more superstitious in order to save a life. This downturn stems from the appearance of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a handsome mercenary who’s an acquaintance of Roger’s wife.
The grapevine calls out and inadvertently informs Roger that Clas possesses an extremely valuable painting at home, and the former, who also eventually becomes aware that the man has a military past that valued him as a tracking specialist, thinks nothing of risk and unwisely goes through with the robbery.
As expected, nothing good comes from lifting artwork from a low-key bounty hunter, and, before long, Roger becomes the most dangerous game, suddenly vulnerable in a world where he’s always been on top. Surprisingly, though, is the method to Clas’s madness — what we at first figure to be a grotesquely dramatic round of revenge turns out to be much more complicated than what it at first appears to be, and it may cost Roger his life. Good thing the latter soon reveals himself to be a sympathetic anti-hero, or we’d be in trouble.
The best thing about Headhunters is its unpredictability. With a hero who is, more or less, a despicable person, the film owes him no favors, and therefore opens a number of possibilities regarding his fate. Tyldum’s pacing is polished, and the film maintains its speed once the hunting begins. Likewise, Hennie and Coster-Waldau admirably remain calibrated with the high tension Headhunters so commendably cultivates. Lund is a great beauty who functions as the film’s heart.
It’s all sensationally crafted and skillfully rendered, but most agreeable about Headhunters is the way it works as a change of pace from most thriller slog we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. Ever since Marvel announced itself as the quickest way to earn a faster heartbeat for a couple of bucks a few years ago, most of America has turned to superheroes as the most respectable connoisseurs of mischief and mayhem.
I’d like more of what Headhunters offers. B+