Headhunters: Toronto Review

Headhunters - Toronto - 2011
Ridiculous twists make adaptation of bestselling Norwegian thriller more fun than it is convincing.

"Game of Thrones" actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Aksel Hennie and Synnøve Macody Lund star in director Morten Tyldum's crime thriller.

Thoroughly ludicrous but hardly unentertaining, Headhunters could have benefitted from a more gut-level approach than Morten Tyldum's arch self-seriousness, which flirts once or twice with American Psycho-like irony but never really goes there. The chase-heavy Norwegian crime flick is twisty enough to please many arthouse patrons, though some will be rolling their eyes by the end.

Aksel Hennie plays Roger, a preening corporate middleman who would be despicable even if he weren't cheating on the wife he doesn't deserve. He betrays everyone, in fact: His career as a headhunter is just a ruse for him to win the trust of wealthy executives, learn about their assets and habits, and schedule appointments for them with other clients, during which he can rob their homes.

The film paints Roger as such a smooth operator, all catsuits and Swiss timing, that the way his troubles begin -- he stops in the midst of stealing a Rubens from hunky tycoon Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to call his wife, thus learning that she's having an affair with said hunk -- is a contrivance we almost can't swallow.

The movie quickly diverts us when Clas, whose career in GPS technology dates to his experience as a military special-forces tracker, decides he needs to kill Roger. The cat-and-mouse action starts early and lasts for most of the film, missing the opportunity to build the threat slowly, but what Headhunters lacks in mystery it makes up for in extreme scenarios: Midway through, Roger hides from a bloodthirsty hound by sinking into an outhouse's muck, and that's arguably not even the most disgusting thing that happens to him.

Ice-eyed and sporting a helmet of overlong blonde hair, Hennie sells Roger's self-satisfaction so well in the film's opening scenes that we ache for his comeuppance. So Tyldum has a problem when he expects us to start rooting for his survival. One imagines how this might have played out with someone like the young Sam Raimi at the helm -- a director who would play up the absurd comedy of the plot's increasingly gruesome action, allowing viewers to enjoy Roger's torment even as the mechanics of a chase film invest us in his survival.

As it plays here, the movie's eventual effort to make all right in Roger's world is neither believable nor satisfying, but it isn't so off-key as to spoil the silly kicks that precede it.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Magnolia)
Production Companies: Friland Film/Yellow Bird Norge/Nordisk Film/ARD Degeto Film
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Synnøve Macody Lund, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Director: Morten Tyldum
Screenwriters: Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg
Producers: Marianne Gray, Asle Vatn
Executive producers: Annie Fernandez, Mikael Wallén, Ole Søndberg, Christian Fredrik Martin
Director of photography: John Andreas Andersen
Production designer: Nina Bjerch Andresen
Music: Jeppe Kaas, Trond Bjerknæs
Costume designer: Karen Fabritius Gram   
Editor: Vidar Flataukan
No rating, 100 minutes