No Honor Among Suits
Ambitious corporate recruiter Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie, adept at portraying sustained anxiety) admits to the audience he has a severe Napoleon complex in the opening scenes of Headhunters, a sharp and exciting Norwegian suspense film.
Five-foot-six, thin, and more than slightly resembling Steve Buscemi, Roger is certain his statuesque blonde wife (the stunning Synnøve Macody Lund) only stays with him because of his status and the elite life he finances, from a spacious, modern suburban home to expensive and glamorous gifts. Unable to sustain this lavish lifestyle with his earned wages alone, he leads a second life as an art thief. His scores are modest, his criminal craft refined.
The plot is set in motion by an introduction to a dashing, intense Danish executive and former soldier, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a master of blending ice-cold intensity with disarming charisma whom audiences will recognize from Game of Thrones. He claims to have an invaluable original by Flemish baroque painter Rubens (a painting thought lost after it was stolen by the Nazis) in his apartment. Roger expects this to be just another swindle, though one with a much more seductive reward, but it soon spirals into a brutal and complicated nationwide game of cat and mouse, a game he may not survive.
One of the reasons Headhunters triumphs is its complex and layered storytelling. It is first and foremost a crime picture, one with more than its fair share of live-wire close calls and suspicious sideways glances among conspirators, but it is also, in its own perverse way, a hilarious depiction of corporate rivalries and masculine insecurities. The male characters, image-conscious and obsessed with crafting reputations beyond reproach, go to extreme lengths to prove their superior nature and to control their environments and colleagues.
To indulge in one of those "it's film A meets film B" clichés critics at times resort to, Headhunters represents a dynamite blend of the during-the-heist adrenaline rush of Ocean's Eleven, the alpha-male social criticism of Fight Club, and the men-not-trusting-other-men paranoid gamesmanship of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Moviegoers may not notice how rich the experience is because the film moves with the speed and purpose of a bullet, but there is content and depth beneath the surface pleasures.
The performances are superb. Suspense is generated in smart and elegant ways, though the film is also not above a dose of blood-drenched, bone-crushing violence, often laced with sinister humor. It might be said the last five minutes tie the plot's various loose ends and tantalizing threads into too neat a bow, but it is also hard not to smile as each piece falls into perfect place. One is tempted to say aloud to the film's creators, "Well played, sirs. Well played indeed."
Similar to Let the Right One In, Tell No One, and fellow Scandinavian crime saga The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, expect a studio to option Headhunters in the near future and soon thereafter release a big-budget American version with A-list stars delivering their lines in nice, comforting English. And it may very well be another good film. Still, I advise literate audiences to not deprive themselves of experiencing the electrifying original.