The phenomenon of smart Scandinavian crime fiction arriving on our shores is, it seems, quickly being followed by a wave of smart Scandinavian crime movies and TV series. At the forefront of the literary output is Jo Nesbø, and it’s Nesbø’s ‘Headhunters’, his first novel outside his famous Harry Hole series, that is aiming to make an impact on the screens where Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and The Killing have already met considerable success and acclaim. Directed by Morten Tyldum, Headhunters is indeed a smart crime thriller, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that, initially at least, it’s all a little obvious and, well... to be frank, hardly credible. A few clever developments and twists should however force you to reconsider this initial impression.
There are quite a few points on which your credulity could founder very quickly. Firstly, that a guy as weedy and lacking in the traditional tall, rugged Scandinavian good looks as Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), could not only have a wife as beautiful as the tall, blonde, goddess-like Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), but one who is to all appearances completely devoted to him. It helps perhaps that Roger is a very wealthy man, but his lifestyle suggests much more money than even Roger can earn as one of the most respected and reliable headhunters in the Norwegian business community. That’s because, on the side, Roger is an art thief, working with a colleague in the security industry to pull off daring switches of valuable prints and original works of art. Even that however barely covers the monthly mortgage on his expensive house, to say nothing of the expensive tastes of his wife in jewelry and the fact that she has just opened her own art gallery.
That’s the premise you have to buy into even before the thriller aspects of the story kick in, but on balance, it’s worth going along with this just to see how the film and the story manage to overturn some of those basic assumptions and the predictability of what follows, since, as Roger has already warned us during the opening narrative, there are one of two things you can rely upon in his line of work – One, you can be lucky and manage to get your hands upon a spectacularly expensive item that means you never have to steal again, or, Two, you get caught. Opportunity for number one presents itself for Roger when his wife introduces him to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a specialist working in GPS and tracking technology who Roger just might be able to line up for a new job with a major competitor. Greve, Roger discovers, has recently come into possession of a rare Rembrandt, stolen by the Nazis and long believed lost. This could be the answer to Roger’s problems. Of course, striving after number one makes the possibility of number two an even more likely outcome...
There are a few other complications, but you’ll see those coming a mile off, with plenty of clues being dropped and various technical aspects being explained in a manner that you just know they are going to have significance later on, and of course, to make matters a little more personal, there’s the fact that Clas Greve is exactly the rugged, handsome type of man that you’d expect a woman like Diana to be much more attracted to rather than someone like Roger. Those preconceptions being introduced however, Headhunters has some fun playing up to them only to overturn a few of them. It’s a little bit having your cake and eating it, but by the same token the viewer can enjoy the sensation of the thrill of the chase, with all the guilty pleasures in suspension of disbelief that come along with it, and the satisfaction that you’re being asked to think through some of the inconsistencies. It’s not perfect, and there are still a few areas that aren’t adequately accounted for, but Headhunters does deliver on that promise of being a little more clever than the average crime thriller.