This summer's been unusual for me when it comes to watching – and recommending – movies. For the most part, I've seen only wide release films. And my thought coming out of most of them has been, "well, that wasn't as bad as I thought it would be…but it's not The Avengers." After watching Dark Shadows, Battleship and The Dictator, really, what I wanted to do was just go back, clean the palate, and watch The Avengers again to have that type of fun, summer popcorn movie experience.
Now, after witnessing a Norwegian movie called Headhunters, whose entire budget would probably spring for one day of craft services on The Avengers, I can honestly say I was entirely satisfied, cinematically speaking, and even more rare, the thought in my head afterwards was simply, "wow…I haven't seen that movie before."
Word of advice: it's best to see Headhunters without knowing anything about it – at all. That's how I saw it, and if you're even slightly intrigued and you love well-constructed thrillers, stop reading now. Come back later, and if you're disappointed, hit me up on email. I caveat that with one other stipulation. This movie is no-holds barred, it's extremely violent and it has lots of nudity. If you can't take those things, stay far, far away. Otherwise, this is completely killer cinema.
Here's the set-up. The film, in subtitles (if you think you hate films with subtitles, hang tight – you'll like this one), starts off with a voice-over narration from Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a guy who at first sight and sound looks like the total embodiment of a corporate, slicked-back, materialistic sleazebag. He works as a headhunter, is married to statuesque Nordic blonde bombshell Diane (Synnove Macody Lund), and in his spare time, he steals priceless works of art in order to afford the payments on their chic (read: sterile) box of a house.
Why would you care about this jerk? Well, the story has several layers, which will be revealed in time. None of the folks on display will be ultimately, exactly as they appear on first showing. It turns out his spouse– an art gallery owner – is connected to suave-looking, chiseled ex-military commando Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who's now open to full-time corporate gigs. Plus, Clas has just inherited a painting worth a fortune. Opportunity score for our Mr. Brown. He can set up Clas with a new corporation, earn a nice finder's fee, and also unburden the guy of his expensive asset.
There is, of course, a hitch. Mid-robbery, Brown discovers that his wife is having an affair with the weapons and combat expert (although it doesn't weigh as heavily on his conscience that he, too, has been partaking in an illicit relationship). Once the well-built Clas discovers that his affair has been found out, and that the painting he inherited is missing, too, the chase is on, between two seemingly dangerous louts. It should be noted, too, that Clas is a lot taller than Brown – and more imposing. That theme will make a difference.
The amazing thing about the film's tight cat-and-mouse games is that they upend the usual conventions of the thriller genre, or at least subvert and tweak them in unexpected, sometimes grisly, often humorous ways. The rest of the plot, and the way it's elaborately carried out to its surprisingly affecting and altogether entertaining conclusion, is a prize worthy of dedicated fans of the genre and high-quality movies.
Director Morten Tyldum, working from a finely calibrated script by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg (based on the book by Jo Nesbo), elicits two pitch-perfect performances from Hennie and Coster-Waldau (also making waves on HBO's Game of Thrones). Together with the rest of their filmmaking collaborators, they've crafted an experience that pays homage to the best works of Alfred Hitchcock and Paul Verhoeven while creating its own unique cinematic high.
Given how this indie entertains on so many levels, an eventual (probably inferior) English-language remake is a near certainty. If you thought the original The Giirl with a Dragon Tattoo was impressive, then this is required viewing.
Oddly, too, this reminded me of The Avengers – but unlike viewings of other wide releases this summer that don't compare (heck, don't even come close), this one draws a favorable comparison. Both are highly enjoyable. Both have extremely humorous moments, and affecting moments. And both are unexpected in how they fulfill the genre's needs, and have some fun with its form. While I'm not someone who'd dissuade another viewing of The Avengers, I would totally recommend that sleeper seekers find this movie, too, and relish it. Then, come back and comment and let us know what you thought.