' ' Cinema Romantico: Headhunters

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Roger Brown is a sly corporate recruiter (i.e. “Headhunter”) but more than that he is a skilled art thief, less as a means to indulge his ego than to prop up his ego when considering he is but 5’6 and married to a statuesque Alice Taglioni-ish model – Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) – whom he is convinced will leave him for someone taller, someone with a bigger, uh, bank account and someone who wants kids. Therefore he spends well above his means, lavishing his special lady with gifts……like, you know, her very own art gallery. It’s enough to bring the guy to the edge of bankruptcy. Which is exactly where he is. Plus, she wants a kid. And he doesn’t want a kid. Perhaps because he’s an art thief on the edge of bankruptcy. And perhaps all this stress is why he is having an affair.

This is the guy meant to be our hero, the entry-point into “Headhunters”, the 2011 Norwegian thriller from director Morten Tyldum, and rather than being driven by any sort of noble goal or effort to right a undeserved wrong he is driven by – as outlined above – deep fear and insecurity. The film's most telling line occurs late in the proceedings when Roger asks another character "Don't you have empathy for anyone?" We might be inclined to ask the same of Roger. After all, he is an adulterous thief addicted to the high life. How can WE as an audience have empathy for HIM? But that, as it turns out, is the very query that drives "Headhunters", it's a journey in which Roger attempts to ACQUIRE empathy. Does he get it?

Like so many cinematic thieves before him, Roger yearns for the requisite Big Score in order to retire from The Game and live the Good Life once and for all, forever forever, without having to put back on the ski mask. He seems to find it when at the opening night of the gallery he has bought for his wife with the money he doesn't necessarily have, he meets worldly, dashing Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an ex-member of an elite Danish army unit. Clas possesses a painting of Peter Paul Rubens. It is worth serious bank, like the retire to a figurative tropical island type bank. Clas is also looking for a position with a well-to-do surveillance company called Pathfinder. It turns out Roger recruits for Pathfinder. Who says miracles can't happen?

So Roger sets up a meeting for Clas with Pathfinder which allows him to slip into Clas's apartment to steal away with the precious Rubens painting to hand off to his sorta unstable partner Ove (Eivind Sander) to take to Sweden to sell. And while I will refrain from revealing any further explicit secrets from this point forward suffice it to say that all does not go as planned. The twists are not only plentiful, they are out there and, yet, entirely believable within the context of the story, a story that is set up from the get go so that each place snaps dutifully into place. Like, say, the two extra-large security guards who appear to possibly be twins. At first you just assume they are a small dose of comic relief. Then you realize their presence has a helpful ulterior motive a bit later on. Again and again this happens.

But what set "Headhunters" apart from so many films of its ilk is Roger's strange, violent, occasionally revolting journey to, against all the odds, become a character worthy of sympathy and worthy of the love of the woman who was not quite what he and we thought. He has seen the light. Or has he? The end, the very end, exists, possibly, as a devious parody of these sorts of movie endings. It's a sly reminder of an ancient adage: It's Only Illegal If You Get Caught.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic review, Nick! You asked a great question there about how we could empathize with someone like Roger, and I found that initially I just couldn't root for him. I was intrigued by the story though and the way things unfold definitely makes this one of the best thrillers I've seen in years. It's hard to see anything unpredictable these days. The thing with his wife I really thought it'd go one way but I'm glad it still managed to surprise me.

Nick Prigge said...

It does take you for an unpredictable ride. And I really like it when movies give us un-sympathetic characters and then try to bring us around. They don't always work, but it's a bold strategy.

Derek Armstrong said...

I agree about the wild ride. This movie was a gas. The twists reminded me of a really good Coen movie, but somehow even more absurd (yet, as you say, believable in context). Where this differs from a Coen movie is this sense of genuine love it has for its characters -- it doesn't have a cynical outlook on them. They frequently do the wrong things and sometimes are just plain evil, but I was surprised by just how much of an emotional punch the main character's arc eventually packed. Simply put, this film filled me with the adrenaline of discovery.

Nick Prigge said...

He's kind of a cold character at the beginning, like a Coen character, but you're right - we never feel at such a distance from him, like there's some sort of joke on high being played.

Norway, man. Lately they've been doing the cinema just right.

Derek Armstrong said...

I have Turn Me On, Dammit! at home right now. I just don't know when I'll be able to carve out the time for its arduous 75-minute length.