Headhunters

A thriller

  • Written by Lars Gudmestad and Jo Nesbø, from the novel by Ulf Ryberg
  • Directed by Morten Tyldum

Shit happens, sometimes literally, in this scary, effective, funny, gruesome, and utterly entertaining thriller from Norway.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) leads the good life. He’s a headhunter–in the modern, corporate meaning of the term. He helps large companies find the right executives to run them. In other words, he helps rich and powerful people become richer and more powerful. He has an extremely expensive house, and a a tall, blonde, stunningly beautiful wife whom he showers with expensive gifts.

In fact, his lifestyle is so lavish that even his high salary can’t pay the bills. So he moonlights as a burglar, breaking into homes and stealing expensive paintings. He knows that he can’t keep doing that forever. Eventually, he’ll either steal a painting so valuable it will fix him for life, or something will go wrong.

Something goes wrong. Multiple somethings. People turn up dead. Before long, avoiding the police is the least of his worries.

The filmmakers play masterfully with our feelings about Roger. He doesn’t start outheadhunters as a likeable character. He’s dishonest, materialistic, and totally self-centered. This allows the audience to enjoy his suffering–at least for awhile. But as things keep getting worse, and as it becomes clear that someone is trying to kill him, we begin to care about him. By the time he has to bury himself over his head in shit, he has our sympathies.

Warning: This movie has several very violent scenes. The body count isn’t unusually high for a modern thriller, but some of the dead bodies are particularly gruesome. Roger himself is shot at, badly shaved, attacked by a large and vicious pit bull, forced to grab an assailant’s butcher knife hard by the blade, and has a freshly-shot, dead, and bleeding body dropped on him. All this is done with a dark humor that relieves the horror. And on more than one occasion, he walks away from a scene that he could not possibly walk away from in real life.

But that’s okay. This isn’t real life. But it’s one hell of a fun movie.

I saw Headhunters at the 2012 San Francisco International Film Festival.

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