Thirty minutes. That’s how long Hollywood executives were watching Morten Tyldum’s Norwegian adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s bestseller Headhunters when they decided they wanted to remake it. Whether this is because the film is a superbly smart and stylish thriller, or that Hollywood once again seems unable to look inward for its own new and creative ideas remains to be seen. The former is certainly true though.
Aksel Hennie plays Roger Brown (very Anglo-sounding name, coincidence?), a head hunter struggling to keep his head above financial waters. He lives in a large stylish penthouse which he hates, and lives a life of luxury. He can’t afford pretty much everything he owns, but he buys it all anyway to please his beautiful wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), who he fears will leave him unless he spoils her. To make ends meet, Roger breaks into the homes of the people he interviews at work, and steals their expensive artwork and sells it on the black market. As he points out though, one painting usually doesn’t even cover his mortgage payments. He needs something more substantial. Enter Clas Greve, a charming businessman and owner of a very valuable painting by Rubens, which Roger soon plans to steal.
This film achieves in areas where so many other thrillers have failed – it manages to use blistering action and yet still make it an examination of the characters. The screenwriters Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryburg will have known that by achieving this delicate balance they were onto a winner. It still even manages to find time to blend in its own native Scandinavian style and very dark humour reminiscent of the Coen Brothers.
The director Morten Tyldum deserves the most credit for crafting this Norwegian box office smash hit. Not only has he managed to take some superb source material and do it justice, but in a rare movie fete he manages to improve on it. Tyldum seems very aware that some of the plot twists do head towards the ridiculous on a few occasions, but his sense of timing and ability to use dark humour mask these moments perfectly.
If you were in Roger Brown’s position you would need a sense of humour to avoid descending into madness. He is a profoundly unlikeable character – adores his wife but still has a mistress, and because he’s only 1.68 meters tall (around five foot six, but don’t take my word for it) he has quite a serious Napoleon complex. He is in all honesty a poisonous rake, and you feel he deserves everything he’s got coming to him when Clas Greve starts looming in on him.
Remarkably though, we don’t feel that way. In fact we want him to stand up and fight back. Perhaps it’s the many indignities that Roger is put through that finally wears down our defences. Poor Roger really does go to hell and back, as he is humiliated more and more by what he’s put through. The most notable indignity certainly comes when Roger is forced to hide in a very full outside toilet, where he uses a toilet roll tube to breathe as he submerges himself under the human waste. Filming that scene apparently put Aksel Hennie off drinking coffee for a whole year.
Hennie without a doubt gives a performance that will see him receive much recognition worldwide. Oscar winning? Not quite, but it still would be pleasant if his name was even mentioned in the same sentence as the Academy Awards. He adds a certain charm to the reptilian Roger Brown that deserves much praise, and should put him in good stead for any future bad guy roles in Hollywood. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (best known for Game of Thrones) also makes a good impression as Clas Greve. He processes all the qualities you’d more likely find in a protagonist – charming, handsome, charismatic, and as we soon find out much to Roger Brown’s dismay he’s also quite the ladies man. He’s also tall, which goes a long way to explaining why Roger has nothing but contempt for him from the moment they meet.
If you log onto IMDB, you’ll find that the American remake of Headhunters is currently slated for release in 2014. It’s not so much irritating that Hollywood seems to think that wide audience is too stupid to read subtitles, but that they’ve made the decision to proceed with this project based on the first half hour. In the first thirty minutes we are very well set-up for what’s to come true, but the majority of that time is filled with scenes of Roger interviewing clients. These incidentally are the only times when Hennie looks out of place in the role. Not just that, but what makes Headhunters so superb is its distinctly Scandinavian style, something that would evaporate in an American translation. Either way it will probably make double the money of the original version, more to the pity. In any case, Headhunters proves that the Scandi-crime phase is still not over, and when it’s resulting in films like this, long may it continue.
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