Film Review – Headhunters
It is hard to feel any real passion, negative or positive, for Headhunters (2011). While the film has its moments, director Morten Tyldum’s thriller has a real sense of been-there-done-that with much of what is happening. We are introduced to Roger (Aksel Hennie), a pleasant-looking man who is obviously hiding something. Roger’s narration gives a quick recap of how he sees himself and his worth. He is good at his job as a corporate headhunter, has a beautiful wife, Diane (Synnøve Macody Lund), who he is convinced is too good for him due to his height and his income, and a mistress on the side. Life would be good, but he is in serious debt after keeping his wife in the lifestyle she has been accustomed to, when she believes him to have inherited his money. So he moonlights as an art thief, using his headhunter position to find rich clients, what art they have, and when to find the house empty so he can steal that art.
Even this is still not enough to keep up with expenses. Then, at his wife’s gallery opening, Roger meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former head of a GPS company. Roger is ecstatic, since he is currently recruiting for a smaller GPS company, Pathfinders. It turns out Clas has a Ruben that has been missing since WWII that would set Roger up for life. As with most thrillers, you know things will not go smoothly, and Roger ends up getting involved with something much darker than anticipated. In his research of Clas, Roger discovers that he used to work as a tracker in the military, and through using the GPS was able to get further involved with the company. This sets up what kind of dangerous person Roger is now involved with. While it was nice to have that set-up, it did make for some predictable moments of how Clas will go after Roger, which, while it works for the film, screams out “plot device.”
Thrillers are a tricky genre to get fully right. We need to feel involved in the tension of what is happening, while believing in the events when things seem so out of control, or we need to just give in to the action completely. This film is going for a feeling of reality. Roger helps this by being an interesting lead. The punishment that he goes through seriously outweighs the crimes he has committed, which gets us on his side as things get darker and darker for him. There are many moments of intense violence, but they are used to show the seriousness of Roger’s situation. Through this, he is able to adapt and focus on what is happening and gain moments of clarity as he discovers who he can and cannot trust.
The violence leads to many unexpected moments with good twists that never feel like they are too out of left field, grounding the events. However, these twists also do not add any deeper layer to get us more intrigued with the new situation that Roger finds himself in. While there are changes, the tension stays constant until a point is reached where, despite all that Roger has gone through and how he is now in so deep, he will somehow have things work out for him. While I was rooting for Roger, having gotten to know him and sympathize with him, I also was disappointed with how the structure changed and made this switch seem obvious. It took most of the bite out of what should have been the most tense moments. It takes away from the earlier intensity, but leads to a satisfying, if not completely realistic, end result.
For a thriller, Headhunters has much going for it: good tension, strong villain, and a likable leading man who is in out of his depth. There is no deeper analysis of events or a need to try to re-watch for any missed moments. Everything is clear by the end. This makes for easy watching, yet, there is little that is new or surprising that will make this film something to come back to.
Final Grade: B