Friday, 13 July 2012

Movie review: Headhunters, dir Morten Tyldum (2011)

I found this amusing little film down away from the most recent releases because it's based on a novel by Jo Nesbo, a Scandinavian crime thriller writer and I'd read one of his books, which is a story called The Leopard that has the Congo as a major theme. In it, the main character is a flawed policeman who is tasked with solving a series of murders. But in this film the protagonist is not a policeman, instead it's an art thief named Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) whose day job is as a headhunter recruiting senior employees for Norwegian companies. Roger deftly elicits details about artworks owned by people he meets, including people he meets in the course of his work, and then steals and sells them.

One day he meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) during the opening of his wife's art gallery. Clas, he discovers, has recently left work at a company that is a competitor of a company for whom Roger is currently recruiting a CEO. He suggests they meet again later to talk. And later that night, after the party, his wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) tells him that Clas owns a painting by Dutch master Rubens. Things get more interesting when he finds Diana's mobile phone in Clas' apartment.

Once he has stolen the painting, Roger goes home to his lush residence but the next morning he finds slumped in his Lexus his partner-in-crime Ove (Eivind Sander). Thinking that Ove is dead, he dumps his body in a lake, but the man revives. Roger takes him back to Ove's house, where they argue. Ove shoots an automatic weapon at Roger but every bullet misses. The one shot that Roger manages to get off from a handgun hits the mark, killing Ove. Then Clas arrives unexpectedly. He is armed.

The chase that ensues is exhilarating in its twists and turns, with dozens of unanticipated moves by the novelist and the filmmakers. The latter have done a great job translating the book to the screen. There are solid performances by Baard Owe as Sindre Aa, the antiquated farmer, and Julie R. Ølgaard as Roger's mistress Lotte. Every element is turned to perfection in this film, and minor characters such as these add measurably to the quality of the film's drama. The four rural policemen who end up in the car that goes over the road railings (see pic) add a touch of dark humour to the story. And while there is an inspector from the Norwegian central investigation body Kripos, his role is ancillary. The hero is the thief, Roger. It is for Roger that we barrack, and it is the superhuman efforts that he produces to extricate himself from the web that Clas spins that push the plot forward.

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