Roger Brown is a man who is confident in his ability to read people and has been able to build a solid career as a corporate headhunter by exploiting this skill. Yet despite his esteemed reputation he has found himself living a lifestyle that he can’t afford. At least not legally. To support his lavish ways he has embarked into the world of art theft and revels in being rather good at it. However he still clings to the hope that he will one day find a score big enough to retire from his criminal career altogether. In pursuit of this dream he ends up choosing a target who is certainly more than he first appears and this is a mistake with grave consequences. As Roger’s plan begins to unravel around him he is forced to face the fact that perhaps he doesn’t know people as well as he had always thought.
Alex: The first half hour of Headhunters is a fantastic introduction to the character of Roger Brown, played charismatically by Aksel Hennie. Thanks to some slick inner narration we become quickly acquainted with Roger and his life. We meet the wife he loves, the house he hates, the mistress he uses and the two lines of work that are just barely keeping him from going bankrupt. All of this unfolds at a lightning pace and sets the film up with a momentum that doesn’t dip until the credits.
Despite coming across as a smooth talker with a small conscience, the character of Roger is actually quite endearing thanks to his role as a narrator. He may be sure he knows what’s going on in other people’s heads but we are the only ones with a direct line into his. He has turned to crime to support a lifestyle he wouldn’t be able to sustain on his corporate recruitment salary alone. Why does he do this? Simple, love. Everything that Roger does stems from the inadequacy he feels about being short. He is riddled with fears that his wife will leave him for someone who is “more” than he is. So he showers her with gifts, a huge modern house, anything she desires except one crucial thing; a child. He lacks confidence in himself but he is confident that he knows the inner workings of those around him. He identifies people that he can steal from with ease and he sees his wife as someone whose affection is for sale.
It’s these instincts and assumptions that will eventually lead him astray and when he identifies his next mark, the enigmatic Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) he makes a fatal misjudgement. He attempts to tease Greve with a job offer and exploit his trust so that he can figure out the best way to infiltrate his home. The theft of the painting is easy enough but it’s at this point he discovers that Clas and his wife are having an affair. Heart broken, Roger returns home and out of spite tries to sabotage Greve’s chances of getting the position. The next morning he gets in his car to find the body of his partner in crime, Ove. He throws the corpse into a lake only for it to swim back to the surface, alive. Once again he has misread a situation and this particular scene is a good example of the dark sense of humour that runs throughout the film.
As Roger desperately tries to make sense of the situation it becomes apparent that there is a bigger plan in motion and Clas Greve is going to do whatever it takes to get rid of Roger.
What did you think of the cat and mouse chase that ensues?
Andrew: Ok. Well… It starts off pretty smooth, Roger Brown (which is a completely bizarre choice of name) is charismatic and confident, and, I agree, well-played by Aksel Hennie. I got on board with the headhunter/art thief career choice and buckled in to see how it would all surely come unravelled. What I didn’t bank on, however, was him coming up against a militarily-trained-tech-corporation-CEO so hell bent on hostile takeover that he plants invisible tracking devices in Roger’s hair, puts syringes in his car seat, kills a farmer, mysteriously disappears at the exact moment he could have caught his man; only to then reappear to ram him and the McGuire twins off a cliff with an articulated lorry (where’d that come from!?), before finally falling into Rog’s trap and getting shot to pieces with a machine gun.
From the moment Roger submerges himself in a tank of shit we say goodbye to any part way reasonable plot (a corporate art thief story has some legs in it right?) and we’re whisked away into a feature length Hank Scorpio episode of the Simpsons (and Nikolaj Coster-Wadlau looks scarily similar!)
I’ll agree that the pace doesn’t drop, there were moments when I felt genuinely tense, and it’s certainly entertaining up to a point, but the ‘I’m greedy because I love you’ moment utterly failed to convince, although conjuring up any emotional impact in a plot so wildly bizarre is a tall order.
I really want to say that this is a fun film and worth a watch if you buy into it, but it’s pretty absurd. The final moment with Clas and Rog is not overly satisfying because Clas is such a weak character, a paper thin baddie who emasculates the protagonist with a bigger dick and bigger guns, but is finally undone by ‘the power of true love’, and the narration summing it all up at the end is just a plain awful piece of film making.
I have a feeling we’re going to disagree on this one…
Alex: Good call on the Scorpio look a like, I wonder if “Stop him, he’s supposed to die” has the same comedic punch when its written in subtitles?
However, unlike you I can actually say it is a fun film when you get on board with it. I loved the frantic pacing and sensational plot. I don’t know if its because it was nothing like I expected or if I’ve been sitting through too many over-long, realistic films lately but I found it refreshing. A desperate dash into the absurd that I was more than happy to get caught up in.
I do agree with you though in regards to weak characters. Apart from Roger there isn’t much to latch onto. Synovve Macody Lund plays a pretty generic unappreciated yet devoted (in the end at least) wife. Clas is a one dimensional corporate arsehole with extreme and baffling methods. Even Roger’s partner in crime fails to leave much of an impression. Not to mention the awfully convenient plot devices that turn up every now and then just to spur the story on: note to self, if you ever find yourself secretly working for an evil corporation then be sure to hide any pens with their name on, it may incriminate you later.
I can forgive the flaws though. I thoroughly enjoyed Hennie’s performance and I did feel for him. You obviously weren’t shorter than everyone else when you were a kid! I too know that sting and if some smug big shot like Clas Greve came along and laid claim to my woman then I’d probably try to steal his famous painting too.
Headhunters is definitely something that can be enjoyed. What it lacks in character depth and plausibility is compensated for with slick direction, suspense and all out madness. For me this unconventional popcorn film is proof that it doesn’t hurt to suspend your disbelief every once in a while.
Easily a new favourite for me but how would you feel about compromising with a Watchable rating?
Andrew: It’s enjoyable because of its ridiculousness perhaps, but I really can’t see where all the praise has come from for this. It strikes me that if it was a Hollywood film it would have got much more of a panning.
A very mixed bag in all respects – direction, plotting, characterisation – and even as escapism it could do better, but can appreciate there is some appeal on that basis. I’m certainly not going to be rushing to watch it again, and can’t imagine it’s going to linger in the memory. I’d even verge on Stinker, but think that’s perhaps a tad harsh. I agree with a Watchable rating on the basis that seeing it once is enough!