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MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Headhunters

HEADHUNTERS (Three Stars)
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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“Chad Harbach spent ten years writing his novel. It was his avocation, for which he was paid nothing, with no guarantee he’d ever be paid anything, while he supported himself doing freelance work, for which I don’t think he ever made $30,000 a year. I sold his book for an advance that equated to $65,000 a year—before taxes and commission—for each of the years of work he’d put in. The law schools in this country churn out first-year associates at white-shoe firms that pay them $250,000 a year, when they’re twenty-five years of age, to sit at a desk doing meaningless bullshit to grease the wheels of the corporatocracy, and people get upset about an excellent author getting $65,000 a year? Give me a fucking break.”
~ Book Agent Chris Parris-Lamb On The State Of The Publishing Industry

INTERVIEWER
Do you think this anxiety of yours has something to do with being a woman? Do you have to work harder than a male writer, just to create work that isn’t dismissed as being “for women”? Is there a difference between male and female writing?

FERRANTE
I’ll answer with my own story. As a girl—twelve, thirteen years old—I was absolutely certain that a good book had to have a man as its hero, and that depressed me. That phase ended after a couple of years. At fifteen I began to write stories about brave girls who were in serious trouble. But the idea remained—indeed, it grew stronger—that the greatest narrators were men and that one had to learn to narrate like them. I devoured books at that age, and there’s no getting around it, my models were masculine. So even when I wrote stories about girls, I wanted to give the heroine a wealth of experiences, a freedom, a determination that I tried to imitate from the great novels written by men. I didn’t want to write like Madame de La Fayette or Jane Austen or the Brontës—at the time I knew very little about contemporary literature—but like Defoe or Fielding or Flaubert or Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or even Hugo. While the models offered by women novelists were few and seemed to me for the most part thin, those of male novelists were numerous and almost always dazzling. That phase lasted a long time, until I was in my early twenties, and it left profound effects.
~ Elena Ferrante, Paris Review Art Of Fiction No. 228

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