Thursday Editor’s Pick: Headhunters (2011)

by on February 17, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick


Playing Thurs Feb 23 at 6:30 and Fri Feb 24 at 4:15 at Film Society of Lincoln Center [Program & Tix]

 

Riding the wave of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, comes another Scandinavian thriller to be reckoned with – care of Film Comment Selects (thru March 1).

 
FSLC boasts in the program notes, “Headhunters is a directorial tour de force that heralds the arrival of an exciting new talent—and it’ll will keep you guessing all the way to its finale.” Wonderboy director Morten Tyldum has already signed on to his first American project (and it sounds intriguing!), and there’s a Hollywood remake already in the works. But you can say you saw the inevitably superior original way back when nobody had heard of it…

 
Todd Brown thinks Headhunters may have had the best trailer of 2011, for Twitch:

Mark my words: Magnolia Pictures may have made the best pickup of the year when they bought rights to Morten Tyldum’s adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters at the European Film Market. The assumption by many when the deal was announced was that Headhunters was a throw-in to a larger purchase given that it came in a package with Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia but those people clearly hadn’t seen the footage shown in the market.

 
Check it out:

 
Tom Huddleston for Time Out (London):

What’s the worst thing that can happen to a movie character? Shot, stabbed, beaten, tortured? How about exiled, chased, shot, impaled, savaged by a pitbull, involved in a tractor crash, chucked off a cliff and forced to hide in 6 feet of human shit? Luckily, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. Tyldum’s deliriously entertaining thriller, based on source material by bestselling Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø, stems from a simple but hugely satisfying idea: serve up an eminently hissable central character, in this case part-time art thief and full-time corporate douchebag Roger (Hennie, who looks like the love child of Steve Buscemi and Rupert Grint). Then sit back and smile as he tangles with the wrong folks and is subjected to the most humiliating indignities the smart, streamlined script can invent. Pure joy.

 

 
David Nusair for Reel Film:

Based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, Headhunters follows slick corporate headhunter Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) as he augments his primary income by stealing high-profile paintings on the side – with problems ensuing as a potential mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Clas Greve) inexplicably launches a full-scale assault against him. It’s a fascinating premise that’s initially employed to watchable yet far-from-engrossing effect by filmmaker Morten Tyldum, as the director essentially offers up a fairly standard crime drama that contains many of the beats and turns in the plot that one might’ve anticipated (eg Roger’s problems with his beautiful wife, Roger’s dealings with an unpredictable cohort, etc). The passable vibe persists right up until around the halfway mark, after which point the movie morphs into something completely unexpected – with the cat-and-mouse pursuit that ensues between Roger and Clas immediately injecting the proceedings with a palpably enthralling feel. Tyldum does a superb job of infusing the movie’s action-oriented moments with a visceral, white-knuckle feel that proves impossible to resist, and it’s worth noting that many of the movie’s more overtly high-octane moments are much, much more exciting than anything cranked out by Hollywood as of late. The inclusion of a few astoundingly tense moments (eg Roger must play dead to evade Clas’ advances) perpetuates the movie’s shift into a seriously engrossing piece of work, and although the climax isn’t quite up to the level of that which preceded it, Headhunters has, by that point, long-since established itself as one of the most exciting, flat-out captivating thrillers to come around in quite some time.

 

 

Kurt Halfyard is also pretty excited, for Twitch:

Flat out surprises like Headhunters is one of the main reasons I attend festivals; a gem that pops seeming out of the blue (at least to North American audiences) and sets the bar for quality genre thrills. The mechanics of a good crime thriller, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing for instance, should involve communicating all of the pertinent details to the audience in ways both obvious and subtle and then using those details (and accompanying expectations) for the purpose of complete surprise. A good call-back, not unlike a stand up comedy routine, for further surprise can elevate a film from good to great. This glossy Norwegian film has all this and more. It takes its power suit wearing, mistress abusing, asshole – truly a hard protagonist to root for – and puts him through a river of shit of his own design, and has come out the other side as an audience favourite. Things are executed with a precise measuring of logic, reason and style.
 
Director Morten Tyldum has the ability to drop so many casual, almost negligent, details into the mix and then cleverly start layering them all together without any instance of letting up the pace. It is a showcase of escalation. He only ‘flashes back’ once to remind the audience of a particular detail, but otherwise he trusts us to keep up or fill in a blank or two between reveals. He also a flair for intense (but measured) bursts of violence, not unlike the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men although things also occasional veer into the absurd “what the hell is going on?” territory of Burn After Reading. Headhunters is a perfect blend of cautious planning, earnest intent, and amusing comedic detachment. It shows off a noirish cynicism for peoples bad behavior when greed and power is at stake, but has the good sense to dangle the carrot of redemption to Roger after he is put through the wringer. Empathy can be a hard thing to generate in these sorts of films, and Tyldum does it with panache. Max Manus star Askel Hennie goes through some amazing physical metamorphoses as Roger is forced to think very quick on his feet and deal with criminals, cops and violent confrontations. This is exactly what Headhunters accomplishes in its 100 minutes. You might think you have spotted a flaw or two in its logic, but rest assured, the screenplay is ahead of you. Blessed is the film that sets its traps and springs its surprises with good screenwriting.

 

 

Eric Kohn for Indiewire:

The heroes of great crime stories generally come equipped with extreme inferiority complexes. If there’s a list ranking those wily characters, then Roger Brown, the daring art thief anti-hero of Morten Tyldum’s widely enjoyable Norwegian action-comedy “Headhunters,” belongs somewhere in the pantheon.
 
Directing his third feature after “Buddy” and “Fallen Angels,” the director displays a strong capacity for lively action sequences. He’s particularly skilled at playing with visual details, most notably crafting a tense moment in which Roger must play dead and nearly loses his composure with each passing second.
 
Petite but never pathetic, Hennie is an ideal actor for the lead role, coming across as a Gollum-like hustler whose confident exterior gradually comes undone until he transforms into a figure of slapstick. Roger’s routine ability to take advantage of his environment by thinking quick on his feet, inevitably winding up in another jam, calls to mind Buster Keaton in a role he might have enjoyed playing himself.

 

An interview with Tyldum at the London Film Festival (he seems a jolly fellow):

 
You can check out the pressbook from the Locarno Film Festival here.
 
The Toronto Film Festival’s Programmer’s Note:

Directed with brisk panache by Morten Tyldum, Headhunters transforms author Jo Nesbø’s Norwegian bestseller into a wildly entertaining thriller. Tapping into the current strength of Scandinavian crime fiction, Headhunters comes loaded with visceral twists as it takes devastating aim at modern mores.
 

Tyldum is aided by a stellar cast that includes Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Roger’s latest target and first-timer Synnøve Macody Lund as Diana. But the director’s principal accomplice is Hennie, Norway’s biggest star, most likely familiar to local audiences from his memorable performances in Cold Lunch, Uno and Max Manus (which made its international premiere at the Festival in 2009). Hennie is known as a chameleonic actor, but with Headhunters he delivers a major star turn. Whether hanging upside down from a car that’s just plunged off a mountainside, dispatching a vicious attack dog or bossing his clients around, Hennie is utterly convincing as a man whose entire life is based on a false image of being in control — until he suddenly finds himself on the run. Through it all, Hennie never loses the character’s guarded but essential vulnerability.

 
It’s doubtful you’ll see a more engaging or timely thriller this year.

 

 

Alex Beattie for Critic’s Notebook:

It’s a perfectly perfunctory thriller that is elevated from the so-so by a fine central performance from Mr. Hennie as Brown, who — despite essentially being a pathetic, loathsome and flawed individual — manages to encourage more sympathy than the very mechanical and ruthless Greve, who will stop at nothing to get his man.
 
In fact, “Headhunters” proves far superior to many run-of-the-mill thrillers by boasting a bleakness that is so often found wanting; and it’s not afraid to confront its viewers by challenging them to reassess its characters midflight. It’s also starkly and unflinchingly violent in parts and justifiably so, as it serves to emphasize the increasing desperation of Brown and the vehement determination of Greve.
 
It’s certainly a slick, gloomy interpretation of Mr. Nesbø’s source material and is a timely reminder to the rest of the world that Scandinavia has brooding thrillers locked down, at least that is until the inevitable Hollywood remake is green-lit.

 

 

Michael Ewins for E-Film Blog:

When I came out of the press screening I was convinced that Headhunters was the most fun I’d had at the festival so far. It’s exhilaratingly paced, tightly plotted and shot through with an obsidian black sense of humour, clocking in at a neat 100 minutes (too many contemporary thrillers outstay their welcome). Tyldum’s film fully embraces its own silliness and enjoys ramping it up with an ever-increasing degree of confidence. It shape-shifts between styles, making you howl with laughter at a scene of wince-inducing gore (smashed-in heads are a frequent sight). Its genre leans toward noir, showcasing a classic man-on-the-run setup, but it also has scenes of dramatic poignancy. There’s more crammed into these 100 minutes than any thriller I can remember from the last five years, and I had an absolute blast. But then the film settled in and I gave thought to its deeper themes. I gave thought to its screenplay and performances. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is much more than just a slick, sick ride through the dark depths of the Norwegian art scene…
 
Like every great film I’ve seen this year (Malick’s Tree Of Life, Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place), this one has grown on me in the days since my first viewing, when all of its composite elements have fallen into place.
 
I really can’t recommend this film enough. At around the halfway point I began to have doubts about the trajectory we were on. I was concerned that Tyldum had played his ace card, and we were going to slip into a predictable chase thriller. But then, and I shall say no more than this, there’s a scene involving a dog and a tractor. I’d forgotten cinema could deliver scenes like that. I’d forgotten it could make me laugh so hard, grip my seat with excitement and feel so many conflicting emotions for a character. I’d forgotten cinema’s primary function: to entertain. Headhunters fulfills that function with aplomb, and I can’t wait to see what Tyldum does next.

 

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