Headhunters begins as a modest heist thriller following drably-named Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie – looking a little bit like Christopher Walken), a self-aware employment recruiter who bemoans his 1.68 m height and compensates by stealing pricey artwork from his clients. Roger sells the stolen goods on the black market and spends the money he secretly earns this way to buy expensive stuff for his too tall wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) that she doesn’t need.
But a modest story this is not. Adapted from the popular novel by Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, Headhunters is packed with twists, turns and shocking, hilarious surprises. Once Roger encounters mysterious Clas Greve’s chiselled jawline (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) however, things start to get crazy.
Roger learns that Greve has an original painting thought long lost that could be worth millions, and it’s just the kind of score that’ll get him out of the ridiculous debt that he’s somehow landed himself in. Predictably, things don’t go to plan as Greve turns out to be much more than a former CEO. Throw in some sexual tension with Roger’s wife and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Season with blood, bullets, excrement and a dog and tractor combo (don’t ask… you’ve got to see it to believe it!), and you’ve got a recipe for pulpy goodness – you won’t know whether to cringe or laugh madly with glee at the sheer ridiculousness of the onscreen shenanigans.
It’s an expert incline, tautly controlled by director Morten Tyldum, with things getting steadily more and more over the top the further in – and it all culminates in a clever ending that manages to tie up most of the loose ends in what is a fairly convoluted mess. It’s all very insane but in a good kind of way, and it works because of Aksel’s wide-eyed deer-in-headlights performance. Roger starts off as a bit of an unlikeable goose since most of his problems are of his own making, yet there’s always room for the little guy. You want to support him because he keeps finding himself in these wild situations where you think it can’t possibly get any worse and yet it invariably does.
Couple all of the above with a genuine character arc – things felt different at the end of the film than they did at the beginning – and Headhunters is a fun, high energy romp that’ll entertain for its duration. That doesn’t mean it’s without flaws though, as there are numerous plot contrivances to be picked at as well as questionable lapses of logic. Notably, during the middle of a heist (in which time is of the essence) Roger stops in his tracks to waste time watching some kids play then takes his mask off, revealing his face, to phone his wife for a little heart to heart. Sure, like that makes any lick of reasonable sense. On the other hand, if the characters were only ever logical then all we’d have would be Spocks and Sheldons – frankly, one of each is enough.
Headhunters has modest beginnings but transforms into an expertly tuned pulpy thriller, with plenty to nitpick but plenty more to both cringe at and enjoy.