Roger Brown is a bit of a cad. Brown is a slick, successful headhunter who recruits and vets executives for major corporations. Trouble is, Brown confesses in an opening voiceover, that he is only 5' 6" tall and has a smoking hot wife, so he compensates by owning a home he cannot afford and showering her with jewelry. Brown consistently avoids his wife's pleas to start a family, and sees another woman on the side. To support his dependents, Brown also steals expensive artwork and resells it on the black market. Things get tricky when Brown steals a rare piece from a ruthless owner unwilling to let it go without a fight. Headhunters, adapted from Jo Nesbø's novel "Hodejegerne," is best appreciated by viewers who take its twisty ride without prior knowledge. Tense, grisly and darkly humorous, Headhunters is a terrific thriller that stays several steps ahead of its audience.
Brown's (Aksel Hennie) trouble begins when his wife, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), introduces him to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a retired Dutch CEO with ties to international surveillance. Brown recruits Greve as the head of a Norwegian surveillance firm, and discovers, by innocent admission from his artist wife, that Greve owns a rare Rubens painting worth tens of millions of dollars. Brown sets his eyes on the painting, but things get complicated when he makes a startling discovery in Greve's apartment. From that moment forward, Brown is a man on the run from both the law and private actors.
I had heard the buzz about Headhunters but was not sure what tone to expect going in. Nesbø has been called a replacement for the departed Stieg Larsson of "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" fame, and, if this film is any indication, he's a hell of a storyteller. Headhunters is twisty but never convoluted, and it places Brown in many situations that seem to lack an agreeable solution. The film succeeds first in flipping the switch on Brown, who initially seems like kind of a dick. He remains kind of a dick, but an endearing, misunderstood one. And Diana? The audience learns some things about her, too, that are different than her initial portrayal.
It would be a sin to spoil the film's goings-on, and I can only inadequately describe Headhunters as a mix of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ocean's Eleven and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Director Morten Tyldum combines suspense, crackling action, marital drama and dry wit to create one well-blended thriller. Shot throughout gorgeous, foggy Norway, Headhunters tracks Brown from Oslo to a remote cabin and back as he runs from the forces he has unearthed. Paranoia takes over, which is understandable, as Brown goes from living large to hiding in the filth of an outhouse and taking a cliff dive in a Volvo in the span of a couple of days.
At 100 minutes, Headhunters is terrifically entertaining, and feels like someone - in this case Nesbø - sat down and carefully created plot twists that are unexpected but also make sense. I like Brown and Diana's relationship, which is important to the narrative and surprisingly complex. Brown and Greve are slick and think themselves invincible, therefore they are perfect adversaries. Each is obsessed with his reputation, which, Brown explains, is what makes a man valuable. Hennie and Coster-Waldau do equally excellent work, though Hennie has far more screen time. Headhunters bobs and weaves through a host of unexpected drama, but ends a very satisfying thriller.
With slick cinematography by John Andreas Andersen, Headhunters looks good on Blu-ray with its 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The image is sharp and clear, with excellent detail and texture. The film leans toward desaturated grays, blues and blacks, but the cool, crisp color scheme is supported by excellent saturation and delineation. Headhunters was shot on film but feels like it was shot digitally - in a good way; not because it looks plasticy or overly processed. Black levels are good, and there are no digital anomalies to report.
The Norwegian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack features crisp dialogue and weighty effects. The rear and surround speakers spark to life during more action-oriented scenes, and directional dialogue and sound pans are well constructed. The score, dialogue and effects are nicely balanced. An English-dub 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is also included. English, English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
The extras include Behind the Scenes of Headhunters (22:39/SD), a decent making-of with interviews and on-set footage; the film's theatrical trailer (2:08/HD); and BD-Live Access.
Slick and surprising, Headhunters is a terrific adaptation of Jo Nesbø's novel. Aksel Hennie stars as a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief. When he steals from the wrong man, he must go on the run to escape imprisonment and death. The film mixes heist action with grisly suspense and dark humor without becoming overwrought. Headhunters is always two steps ahead of its audience. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.