Not at all the new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo like the press is desperately trying to pass it off as, Headhunters is completely different, both in plot, character, and feel—and it’s excellent fun. Thundering along at great speed and with a main character who will lose your affections at the start and then win you back, this is how crime movies should be made.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie, incidentally the first person convicted for doing graffiti in Norway), as he explains in a brief voiceover at the start, is 1.68m tall and compensates for his lack of stature with an oversized house and his improbably beautiful and tall wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), who, like a surprisingly number of people in crime books (this is adapted from Jo Nesbø’s book of the same name) but not in reality, runs an art gallery. He’s a headhunter, a recruitment agent who knows the value of reputation. He’s good at his job and makes a pack of money, but not enough to fund the lifestyle that he and Diana lead. To compensate, and with the help of his security company cohort Ove (Eivind Sander), he also moonlights an art thief more than happy to steal from the clients he’s hiring, and whose personal information it is ridiculously easy to discover when you’re the one doing the interviewing. Despite this, Roger’s finances are precarious and his emotionless affair with brunette Lotte (Julie Ølgaard) is coming to an end when he encounters the man who could change his life: Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, almost ridiculously handsome), the perfect candidate for the job Roger is hiring for, and someone who’s just inherited an original Rubens. Clas, alas, is not your everyday job hunter.
Roger is a total prong, and when everything in his life falls to shit you’re almost pleased—at first. Slowly, Roger regains your compassion and becomes a character you can get behind instead of one you want to push over, and kudos to Aksel Hennie (who has a bit of a Steve Buscemi look to him) for portraying a character arc you’re initially unwilling to follow. Part of this is the ridiculous situations it doesn’t take long for him to be in—you’ll probably want to cover your eyes for a particular hiding place he chooses, and for a fight he has with a dog—and part of it is his reactions, which don’t have you shouting at the screen “Augh! Why are you doing this?” but rather thinking: yes, that is the right thing to do. He’s a smart guy, just confused about his huge ego fighting with his lack of self-esteem. The characters that surround him are excellent too: Diana is lovely and misinterpreted, Clas ominous in his smoky expression, Ove hilarious in his introduction as he runs around his house naked shooting pop guns at a giggling Russian prostitute. Even the peripheral characters, including overweight identical twin police officers, and real-life police chiefs at a press conference, are wonderful touches that make this movie a cut above other action-type flicks.
The movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test—and the few women in it aren’t at all simpering, but are still being used by men in some way. Having said that, the men are all jerks. It’s also a bit gory in parts, which isn’t necessarily a criticism but something to point out if you’ve got a weak stomach for such things. (A brief pan over someone’s crushed face is followed by a solid close-up you weren’t expecting; also, the aforementioned hiding and dog scenes.) There’s a discrepancy at the end that I haven’t quite figured out, but as I went to see it alone, I don’t have anyone to set me straight.
Those are all very, very minor gripes in a movie I genuinely adored. Go see it; it’s a thrilling, entertaining crime adventure that deserves a wider release than it will probably get, and equal, if not more hype, to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which, as possibly an in-joke, Diana is actually watching the Swedish version of at one point.) I give it eighteen out of twenty machine gun bullets scattered on the ground.