This review was originally posted in September 2011 for Fantastic Fest. We are republishing this review due to its opening at Tivoli Theatre on May 18th.
Foreign crime novels have been all the rage. To this day, Stieg Larsson and his “Milennium Trilogy” books still stand on the New York Times Best Seller List over a year later. Yet, another interesting foreign crime writer has seen a rise to fame and is often compared to Larsson. Jo Nesbo first really made an impact with readers and the press when his book The Snowman finally saw a release here in the states this year. The writer has a penchant for crafting intriguing stories involving murder, hard-nosed detectives, and red-herrings around every page. However, it is another thrilling crime novel of Nesbo’s that will hit the big-screen first: Headhunters.
Between recruiting (headhunting) workers for top positions and buying his beautiful wife expensive jewelery, Roger Brown is a successful thief. To make up for what he he calls “little man syndrome,” Roger breaks into the home of the elite and replaces expensive works of art with convincing fakes. He’s quick, smart, and extremely resourceful. His skills in both his day and night jobs come to a screeching halt when he meets Clas Greve. The man is a better-looking, more clever, and extremely wealthy man. Yet, the main thing that draws Roger to Claes is a Peter Paul Rubens painting estimated at over 100 million dollars. Unfortunately for Roger, this is not going to be just another in-and-out job. Furthermore, Claes is not just a normal man.
Headhunters is an intriguing thriller in a lot of ways. Director Morten Tyldum has made a film that falls neatly in place as a successful Hollywood thriller. This is both a blessing and a curse for the film. The story moves at a standard build setting up all of the players in the puzzle. Each of the characters act as if they have something to hide and it is interesting to guess how everything will tie all together as the film unfolds. Then we get to the attempted robbery. From this point on, the film switches in to high-gear. In a style that was reminiscent of The Fugitive, Roger becomes a target for the police and others as he is forced to clear his name and evade his pursuers. All of the action and characters are handled very well and it proves that Tyldum is ready for the big-leagues as a director. Yet, that is what it feels like by the end of it: A director and script that goes through the motions. It’s a very weird feeling when you are siting in a theater after just watching an well-made movie and can’t seem to figure out exactly what it is that made you not completely love it. The actors are all great. Especially our con-man Roger, which should make a star out of Aksel Hennie. The story is fun. The action is tense. What is it that makes this film not completely perfect? I guess that it just feels like a standard Hollywood thriller than a unique Norwegian made film. Even the ending, which falls into place way too neat and perfect, feels the need to over explain itself and put a bow around the entire thing. The cat-and mouse sequences in the last half make for some exhilarating moments. They even become surprisingly bloody, which was a very welcomed surprise.
Despite not having a lot of particulars to complain about, Headhunters still left a slightly stale taste in my mouth. Like the paintings he replaces, the film feels like a really well-made Hollywood fake of what could have been a more uniquely Norwegian masterpiece. On the other hand, it’s still a beautiful composition with all of the brushstrokes in the right spot.