'The Headhunter's Calling': Film Review | TIFF 2016

Courtesy of TIFF
'The Headhunter's Calling'
An unconvincing and unlikable tale of a lousy father's redemption.

Gerard Butler plays an unredeemable corporate slimebag who is miraculously transformed, eventually, by his son's cancer.

What do you get for the corporate greedhead who can buy anything he wants because he prefers cheating clients who trust him to spending quality time at home? Well, probably you don't get him anything, because he's a terrible person, and why would you get gifts for someone like that? But if you're director Mark Williams, you get him a kid with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, because God knows that will make anybody a good person, and what are kids for if they can't fix our character flaws with their cancer?

A loathsome redemption tale that rings false on every front except when depicting capitalistic assholery (and sometimes fails to convince us even then), Williams' directing debut The Headhunter's Calling (from a script by former corporate headhunter Bill Dubuque) not only expects us to root for its unlovable protagonist, but expects us to do so when that man is played by Gerard Butler. A certain demographic will always fall for this kind of claptrap, but when a child actor here is made to ask Butler, "Hey Dad? Do you believe in God?," one hopes the answer is "Yes, Son, and he's telling distributors they can find much better disease-exploiting family melodramas to offer moviegoers than this one."

Butler plays Dane Jensen, a macho headhunter competing for a managerial slot with Alison Brie's Lynn Vogel. Their respective recruiting teams — whose cumulative commissions this fall will determine which team leader gets the promotion — are said to be "mouth-breathers versus Ivy Leaguers," but Vogel is as crass as Jensen, and Jensen's latest protege is as timid as a bookworm, so what's the diff?

The movie offers abundant examples of the lies Jensen's willing to tell to land a client in a job, but it seemingly expects us to be impressed by most of them. When it wants our genuine disapproval, it shows how Jensen uses an out-of-work 59-year-old engineer (Alfred Molina) as an unwitting "tracer bullet" — sending him to interview for jobs Jensen knows he won't get, to gather information a younger applicant can use to his advantage.

Using the demands of the firm's taskmaster owner (Willem Dafoe) as an excuse, Jensen misses plenty of important family events; those he attends are usually interrupted by a vibrating mobile phone. Still, he feels entitled to complain to his wife (Gretchen Mol) about their routine sex life, which he feels would be spicier if she'd let him ejaculate on her face. Dane's a good guy deep down, you can tell.

This is the part where Dane's wife tells him, of his life as a family man, "You're missing it! Even when you're here, you're not really here." When she knowingly informs him that "one day you're going to wish you had this time back," viewers may briefly fear they've stumbled into a sequel to Click, with Adam Sandler waiting in the wings to explain the importance of being there for your loved ones.

But no: This is a disease-fixes-your-life movie, only it takes a miserably long time before Dane learns any lessons from the suffering of his poor son Ryan (Max Jenkins), whose disease he initially mistakes for some laziness-produced weight gain. The turnaround that comes after months of Dane's spending more time with Ryan is awfully weak tea, and a skeptical viewer will say it's nothing of the sort. But if it means the credits can finally roll, who's complaining?

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Gala)
Production companies: Voltage Films, Zero Gravity Management, G-Base Productions
Cast: Gerard Butler, Alison Brie, Willem Dafoe, Gretchen Mol, Alfred Molina, Kathleen Munroe, Dylan Roberts, Maxwell Jenkins
Director: Mark Williams
Screenwriter: Bill Dubuque
Producers
: Craig Flores, Nicolas Chartier, Mark Williams, Gerard Butler, Patrick Newall, Alan Siegel
Executive producers: Jonathan Deckter, Daniel Bekerman, Bill Dubuque, Danielle Robinson
Director of photography: Shelly Johnson
Production designer: Charisse Cardenas
Costume designer: Christopher Hargadon
Editor: Tom Noble
Composer: Mark Isham
Casting directors: John Buchan, Jason Knight, Mary Vernieu, Michelle Wade Byrd        
Sales: CAA

Not rated, 110 minutes

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