For the next few weeks I will be running reviews of all the BAFTA nominated films in the ‘Film Not in the English Language’ category in the lead up to the awards themselves on 10 February 2013.
(The one exception is Jaques Audiard’s Rust and Bone, which Lee ran a review of on 5 November 2012.)
Release Date: 6 April 2012
Director: Morten Tydum
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Synnøve Macody Lund and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
It is so often the case that once one steps out of the cultural circle of repetition in which we find ourselves, and look to other countries, that we find startlingly refreshing takes on otherwise stale genre fare. Such is the case with Headhunters (Hodejegerne), a Norwegian crime thriller that playfully juggles convention – flitting between action, thriller and even comedy with surprising ease. Based on author Jo Nesbø’s 2008 novel of the same name, this briskly paced and well shot film marks another intriguing entry into the blooming ‘Scandinavian Noir’ genre. With its recent BAFTA nomination, Headhunters can hope to find an even larger audience here in Britain.
Through a well edited and stylish opening montage, we are introduced to (the oddly Anglicised sounding) Roger Brown, played by Aksel Hennie, as he informs us of his dual careers as corporate headhunter and fine art thief. He also forefronts his diminutive stature – admitting to a Napoleon complex from the outset – which comes to play throughout the film as Hennie is framed against a number of statuesque costars. First amongst these is Roger’s wife, Diana Brown, who is played by first time actress Synnøve Macody Lund. Whilst Lund is never tasked with much heavy lifting in terms of acting, her detached nature (which may just be a result of her supermodel looks and lack of acting experience) serves the character’s ambiguous motivations well. More interesting is the opposition that Roger faces in the form of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Clas Greve. He serves at first as a possible candidate of Roger’s corporate headhunting (and fine art thievery) and then as a literal headhunter who relentlessly pursues Roger by any means. Both physically and mentally, Waldau is presented as the ultimate foil for Hennie’s dark protagonist.
The director, Morten Tyldum, knows to keep the camerawork and editing simple, allowing Nesbø’s twisting story to be the star of the show. As it is, the story plays upon standardised conceits, subverting the thriller genre at certain points (a moment of trying to dispose of a body in a lake springs to mind) whilst playing into the conventions in others. The narrative is structured into two distinct halves, with the first framed around Roger’s dual life as corporate headhunter and fine art thief, while the second half segues into out-and-out chase film (giving the film’s title an amusing double-meaning). This may frustrate some viewers, as they invest in one half or the other, but Hennie’s consistent performance anchors the piece – somehow being at turns dispassionate, charismatic yet vulnerable. Through capturing moments of shocking gore, Tyldum does give the film a dark and grisly tone, yet all tinged with a surprising comic element. This offbeat humour can at times undermine the stakes of the film but for the most part works in tandem with the relentless thriller aspects of the piece.
Ultimately, the somewhat tumultuous tone is capably held together by Aksel Hennie’s engaging portrayal of Nesbø’s complicated anti-hero, whom the audience find themselves investing in through the trying events he is put through. I found myself surprisingly invested in Roger and Diane’s relationship, despite the infidelity clearly outlined near the beginning. Overall the film is a highly enjoyable and refreshingly unique thriller. Through combining moments of intrigue with action and humour, all set to a dark offbeat rhythm, Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters is a brisk, engaging and surprisingly fun ride.