Jo Nesbø’s novel is the latest adaptation in a cold climate to get an export, and is solid example of what not to do when things go wrong.
Thanks largely to the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, distributors are getting a little bolder in testing out Nordic thrillers on global audiences. With Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman due for a Hollywood adaptation from Martin Scorsese, Headhunters offers a window into his world as a bit of advance homework for what will no doubt start a whole back-catalogue of adaptations in the coming years. Although twisty and filled with cat and mouse chases, Headhunters is likely to thrill Stieg Larsson fan and induce knowing yawns from audiences in equal measure.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is not a tall man, and he exists on the notion that he must overcome this in all walks of life. Married to the beautiful Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), his role as a successful job recruitment headhunter is not enough to provide her with the life he thinks she deserves. So he leads a double life as an art thief, and his latest mark is Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a businessman from the Netherlands who is said to have a rare original Rubens in his apartment. Yet his attempt to take it leads to all manner of trouble when he suspects Diana is cheating on him and people start trying to kill him.
Like the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, another thriller set in a frosty environment, Headhunters is the kind of film that shows how things go from bad to worse when you try to put a bad deed right. Plotted like a loose thread on a sweater, things rapidly unravel for Roger as he attempts to cover his own tracks. Theft leads to death, resulting in murder and the needs to hide bodies, of course, and it all builds to a unwieldy series of events that disaster is inevitable. It’s a thrill a minute cat and mouse chase to be sure, but following that loose thread of a thought, the film wraps its bundle of wool up a little too neatly by the end, resulting in a fairly clean ending for all involved. Worse yet, it uses a high-tech deus ex machina to get there, which leaves a very threadbare garment when you dig too deeply.
Hennie’s central performance is quite strong, his overconfidence belying his insecurities and eventually giving way to the inner rage he feels over a continuing string of bad luck. Quite literally transforming in appearance by the end of the film, he is largely responsible for audience buy-in for the often incredulous turn of events that leads us on a merry journey through the darker side of human nature. Game of Thrones‘ Coster-Waldau is also impressive as the slick opponent, cooly giving off a vibe of smarmy.
The film is also beautifully shot by cinematographer John Andreas Andersen, who is has recently been impressing arthouse audiences with his work on King of Devil’s Island. Contrasting the crisp whiteness of the hinterland with the slick metropolis gives the film a distinctive vibe, even if thematically audiences have seen it all before.
Headhunters was released in Australia on 1 March 2012 from Rialto.