The hype for Scandinavian suspense thrillers continues with Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters (Hodejegerne) directed by Morten Tyldum. It comes after the commercial success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, amongst other Scandinavian exports, which include Swedish TV series Henning Mankell’s Wallander and Danish TV series The Killing. If you liked any of the fore mentioned then you should certainly add Headhunters to that viewing list.
This Norwegian film shares a similar morbid melancholic milieu, which is eerily chilling and has a dark and dank aesthetic. If you are unfamiliar with these titles be warned that this film is subtitled. The film is sometimes quite gruesome in parts, but does hold undertones of dark humour and is relativity fun to watch. When it came to the ending credits I immediately thought the film was remarkable, I wouldn’t be surprise to see an American remake of it in a couple of years time.
I’ve heard critics say that modern Nordic crime thrillers stem from US hit shows such as 24 and The Shield due to their gritty realism and their complex narratives. Headhunters is perhaps more comparable to modern French thrillers such as L’appartement (Minouni, 1996), Sur mes lèvres (Audiard, 2001) and Le Serpent (Barbier, 2006) which I find are more Hitchcockian than anything. The film follows Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) a business man who leads a secret double life. On the surface he is a self styled yuppie, with a reputation built on elitism, vanity, and arrogance. His other life is a sly, cunning and manipulative art thief which helps to prop up his dying business and lavish life style. He’s introduced to Clas Greve, (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and better known for playing Game of Thrones character Jaime Lannister and from the Danish thriller Nightwatch.) Roger discovers that Clas has a valuable painting and sets out to steal it. However, Roger discovers rather too much and meets his match against the emotionless and methodical predator of Clas who hunts him down.
One aspect that I really liked about this film is how tension and suspense is created by the audience almost enjoying Roger’s life threatening situations. At the start of the film we are not supposed to like his character in a moral sense. He is very antagonistic and you ultimately feel that he deserves what is coming to him, but the transition of him becoming a redeemed character is beautifully executed. Roger achieves his reconciliation by purging himself of his worldly possessions. He ditches his executive car; he throws his clothes, shoes and expensive watch into a lake. He stands completely naked on a rock and watches his old identity literally and figuratively sink or drift away in the water. Almost as though he has been cleansed like a ceremonial baptism and rebirth. But what he leaves behind of himself is still not enough and he suffers the consequence. He has to sacrifice even more: his appearance, shaving off his golden locks of hair near a river. Only then he is properly reborn. Only then does the audience perceives him for who he really is. We begin to sympathise allowing ourselves to enjoy him seek out and take revenge.