In all honesty, I watched the Norwegian crime thriller based on selfish motives. I love Game of Thrones, and more specifically Nikolaj Coster-Waldau whose in it. Ergo, I’ll watch anything that includes his dashing good looks, and thankfully Netflix had this on Instant (it also came highly recommended by classy critics). With that, Headhunters is a fantastic thriller that manages to successfully inject heart and morals within a dark and intense mystery.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter by day, and world-class art thief by night; a double life that stems from his feelings of inadequacy and a need to please his wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund). When Diana introduces Roger to Clas Greve (Coster-Waldau), Roger thinks he’s found the answer to all his problems since Clas has inherited a rare painting. Things go wrong when Roger attempts to steal it, and finds himself immersed in a world of double-dealings, and fears that his wife has betrayed him.
For a movie that could have devolved into a typical heist thriller, Headhunters never goes where you expect. You expect the art thievery to become a big part of the movie, and possibly have the entire climax hinge on that, but that’s not the case. The movie actually seems to hold a lot in common with spy films. A key part of the narrative is Roger’s fear that government technology that Clas has access to is being used to track his every move. Dovetailing with that is the standard trope of paranoia. Roger feels inadequate when the movie stars. He references that he’s only 5’6″ which makes him shorter than his wife. When he meets Clas, he feels even more inferior because Clas is everything he isn’t. The script and the way Macody Lund acts, makes the audience question whether she’s truly unfaithful, or if Roger is simply paranoid. The script uses phrases that could point to both theories, and Macody Lund says both just right, to make the audience think either scenario.
The doubt works to the movie’s advantage because at its core it acts as a moral treatise on appreciating the simple things. Roger believes he has to steal in order to make his wife happy. He thinks that at any moment his wife will realize that he’s not good enough, and leave him. On top of that, Roger creates his own facade that he doesn’t need her anyway. His wealth and prestigious job could get him any woman he wants. As he’s thrust into events where he’s almost killed at every turn he discovers what a total dick he’s been to everyone.
By story’s end, he’s realized the error of his ways. Thankfully, screenwriter Lars Gudmestad doesn’t make anything feel treacly or unfeeling. You hate Roger for his arrogance, you fear for his safety when he’s in danger, and you smile when all is set right. I can’t remember a movie made this decade where I truly came to understand a character, body and soul. Hennie, as an actor, does look less than intimidating, but that grounds you to his character. Despite his prestigious job, he is an everyman that you can get behind.
Acting as a strong foil is Coster-Waldau as the evil Clas. The man is gorgeous, let me get that out there, and boy does he use that to his advantage. He’s the typical dashing jerk that, if this were another genre, would be the leading man. The divergence in expectations is what keeps this movie intriguing. You do wonder for a moment whether Clas is really a good guy who Roger is simply suspicious of due to his good looks. Unfortunately, that’s far from true and Clas will do whatever he can to achieve his goals of murdering Roger…for reasons that I won’t divulge here.
I really don’t want to spoil this movie, because it’s important to not know anything. A good thriller never shows its hand, and I think that’s why the plot works to concealing the true story. You believe this is about art heists, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The complexities and twists always feel genuine. Nothing pops out of thin air or becomes uber-ridiculous as it can in thrillers like this. If you can’t tell, I recommend Headhunters wholeheartedly. It’s an intelligent thriller that never panders to action-oriented stupidity. The acting is top-notch, and imbues heart within the plot and characters. Netflix Watch Instantly has it available now.