MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Headhunters

Norway: Morten Tyldum, 2012

Think you’ll be bored at a movie about corporate headhunting and a missing Peter Paul Rubens painting? Not necessarily. The Norwegian neo-noir Headhunters may have its flaws — outrageous improbability chief among them — but it’s definitely no bore. In fact, the movie pretty well blasts you away as you watch it , employing heavy doses of  hot sex, cold brutality, and a twisty, frequently surprising crime plot to put you on the edge of your seat while then trying to knock you right out of it.

Based on a best-selling novel by Jo Nesbo — Norway‘s most popular and highly regarded crime novelist, and the creator of the Harry Hole detetcive series — Headhunters revolves around a diminutive anti-hero, 5’6” Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who looks a bit like a shrunken Chris Walken, works as a headhunter and CEO recruiter, and dabbles in art thievery on the side. Roger, a self-professed “over-compensator,” is also married to an intimidatingly tall and beautiful Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), and he pulls his jobs with the unabashedly pathological and somewhat flipped out heist man Ove Kikerud (Eivind Sander), an explosive creep with nerves of ice and a taste for booze and Russian hookers.

Into Roger’s life comes the intimidatingly tall and handsome Clas Greve (Danish actor Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), an ex-Dutch commando who also happens to have his hands on a long-missing, incredibly valuable Rubens painting, titillating the little headhunter/thief on two levels, and maybe more. Roger’s life soon turns into a bloody mess.

The film, however, is slick and fast and gorgeously shot — if sometimes almost criminally over-the-top. Director Morten Tyldum (a Norwegian TV commercial whiz), cinematographer John Andreas Andersen and editor Vidar Flataukan, all succeed at times in knocking our socks off — or at least in getting them pulled pretty far down off our toes. It’s hard to like anyone here much except Lund’s Diana — and she might have worked better as a femme fatale. But the four main actors are all compelling, and Hennie and Coster-Waldau make a sparky pair of Mutt and Jeff antagonists. You may be irritated by Headhunters. But you probably won’t be yawning — unless you were exhausted to begin with.

Norway’s Nesbo is a thriller-writer in the Steig Larsson tradition, mixing sex, violence and social corruption with complex criminal behavior and dense plotting, and generating huge worldwide sales. Nesbo’s noir novels are touted in the press notes as having been published in 140 countries and translated into 35 languages. He also scored the top three places in a recent Norwegian newspaper poll (by the journal Dagbladet) on Norway’s all-time-best crime novels — and then took five more slots among the next eight. Hollywood is apparently impressed: Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg are among the names that have been mentioned for the seemingly inevitable American remakes.

But I suspect those remakes, when they come, may not have quite the pizzazz of the Norwegian novels, or this movie.. It’s a racy, violent, hell-on-wheels neo-noir that makes Norway look, for at least a little while like the capitol of fictional crime — and maybe of overscompensation too.

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“Critics have said that I’ve made a career out of confounding expectations. Really? Because that’s all I do? That’s how I think about it. Confounding expectations. Like I stay up late at night thinking about how to do it. “What do you do for a living, man?” “Oh, I confound expectations.” You’re going to get a job, the man says, “What do you do?” “Oh, confound expectations. And the man says, “Well, we already have that spot filled. Call us back. Or don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Confounding expectations. I don’t even know what that means or who has time for it.”
~ Bob Dylan

“There was somebody from Creative Screenwriting Magazine who was here earlier, and she said ‘Have you got any advice for writers?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, write standing up’. Because this time around, I bought a cheap little stand off Amazon, and I wrote standing up, because it’s slightly uncomfortable – it’s not so uncomfortable that you can’t do it, it’s slightly uncomfortable. And it means you don’t end up going on the internet, basically, because you’re there to do a fucking job. So I’ll write for 25 minutes… then I’ll go and play on the PlayStation for a bit. And I do this all night. I go nocturnal. And then I go back and I’ll write a bit more, and then I go back to the PlayStation, and then I go back… And hopefully by then, I’ll lose track of time and then I’ll be writing for fucking ages, and then there’s a point where you get excited about it. So my advice for writers is always: write standing up, and get Scrivener, and write in 25 minute bursts, and get a PlayStation.”
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