Saturday 8 December 2012

Headhunters (2011) - Morten Tyldum

Stealing art is a familiar cinematic narrative, perhaps most famously in The Thomas Crown Affair.  Headhunters, a Norweigan film based on the novel by Norweigan author Jo Nesbø, sets up a typical story, but slowly the plot unfolds in an unexpected direction.

Pale protagonist Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is not the usual suave charmer.  One of the top headhunters in the recruitment business, he runs a successful company, lives in an expensive flat and is married to a beautiful wife - yet his financial security comes from his undercover sideline as an art burglar, by using his reputation to extract valuable information from his clients and stealing from their homes.  It's a slick, clever operation, but Roger is cold-hearted and not likeable.  He may be hiding his self-consciousness about his short height under a façade of arrogance, offering a glimmer of vulnerability, but he operates in a clinical world where it's one rule for him and another for everyone else.

Finally, he meets his match in Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - familiar to fans of Game of Thrones).  When Roger steals an extremely valuable Rubens painting from Clas, he is forced to go on the run in a desperate attempt to cover his tracks.  It's a thrilling plot, filled with twists and double-crossing - if a little convoluted towards the end.  The proceedings soon take a turn for the absurd and violent as Roger is pushed to desperate measures, but the film offers a satisfying conclusion.

What's most surprising is how we warm to Roger.  Through his fight for survival, he is diminished to a shivering, vulnerable man saved by his cunning and resourcefulness.  Rather than feel Roger has received his just deserves, he is a protagonist we eventually root for.  It's complemented by some fine performances, plus cinematography and design that oozes stylish Scandinavian minimalism.

Alongside The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and TV drama The Killing, Headhunters is another thrilling (if less gripping) example of the current fashion for Nordic drama.