Monday, August 27, 2012

Headhunters

Potential Spoilers

By the close of the serpentine 2011 Norwegian thriller HEADHUNTERS, it becomes clear that for all of the twists and convolutions of plot we've been through, this is essentially, primarily a story of 2 people who just don't communicate, with a whole lot of perilous fallout. Make that one person, actually: a high-level, though short in stature, very polished recruiter for a top agency named Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) who explains in voiceover that the expensive lifestyle he and his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) lead is really all her idea. Their home is an architectural marvel of sleekness, right out of a magazine. While his job as headhunter presumably pays well, it's never enough.

That's why we see a montage of Brown's down-to-a-science methods of art thievery, a sideline gig that proves to be exotic, a real rush, but is mainly just to pay for those costly gowns his wife wears. Brown and his lowlife associate Ove (Eivind Sander), who works for a security company and has a thing for Russian call girls, break into homes and replace original paintings with who-can-tell-the-difference? reproductions. Brown is so industrious he finds a way to use his headhunter job to scope out potential marks. The profits from the sales of the stolen artworks are healthy...but still insufficient.

Brown has other problems. His wife is pressuring him to give her a child. His girlfriend Lotte (Julie Ølgaard) doesn't go quietly when he breaks off the affair. On opening night of her new art gallery, Diana introduces her husband to a man named Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former CEO of a company specializing in microscopic GPS devices, the kind that can be hidden in someone's hair (remember that).

Clas is a lean, handsome figure whose smiles barely mask someone you just know is a predator. Brown learns that Clas is in possession of a rare Peter Paul Rubens painting (worth untold millions of kroner) and uses his considerable skills of persuasion to get the man to agree to a business lunch; valuable time to allow him to make Clas his next mark. The score is potentially so huge, Brown may even be able retire from his moonlighting. But Brown also learns that Diana may be more than just friends with Clas. To top it off, there's also a famous, meticulous detective at the gallery opening, who's recently narrowed his focus to nabbing art thieves.

Director Morton Tyldum's HEADHUNTERS is the sort of crime film about which it would indeed be criminal to disclose too much. The early scenes suggest a sophisticated, quiet puzzler (ala THE SPANISH PRISONER) confined to the upscale world of Oslo's wealthiest. But what appears to develop into an art heist movie becomes something far more brutal and earthier. As the action moves from the elegance of the cityscape into the countryside, Brown's slick veneer is systematically worn down to an almost primal level. This allows Hennie, whose features echo those of Christopher Walken's, the opportunity to give a dynamic, multifacted performance. He handles it quite well.

The screenplay maintains the sort of darkly comic tone familiar to fans of A SIMPLE PLAN, FARGO, and SHALLOW GRAVE, to name a few. It does get pretty violent, even gruesome, at times. Ultimately though, HEADHUNTERS proves to have less of a Nietzsche world view than some of the other films. The Norwegian vista lends a novelty to the story, its natural beauty itself a work of art, though tainted with some rather rough brush strokes, courtesy of our human characters with their seemingly bottomless capacities for evil. This somewhat echoes another contemporary noir, THE ICE HARVEST.

But back to the beginning when I talked about the end of this film. Watching the wrap-up, it occurred to me the screenwriters were stating that sometimes you have to traverse a wilderness of despair before appreciating and understanding what you have. True love isn't always recognized - sometimes you have to be over your head in a world of shit before you take stock, speak with transparency, and learn to nuture the relationship with your soul mate. As you'll discover in this movie, sometimes that "world" can be quite literal.

In a strange way, this film could be observed as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when you let dialogue between you and your beloved trail off and become non-existent. It isn't until Roger endures a series of horrible events that he is able to open up to Diana. If only the prima donna little prick had just taken the focus off himself for a bit....

HEADHUNTERS is not a film that knocked me out of my seat, but it is a wildly entertaining traipse through the noir landscape with several clever touches. Its fans will doubtless be bitching about the already planned Hollywood remake to come.

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