You might not know his name, but in Norway, Jo Nesbø is a pretty big deal. His novels have sold well over 1 million copies, and now his 2008 novel Hodejegerne (Headhunters) has been adapted into a movie.
The first thing to say about the movie is that the lead character is called Roger Brown. Now, if this were an English language movie, that would be fine, but it’s a Norwegian film set in Norway and Roger Brown isn’t exactly a very Norwegiany name (not that Norwegiany is a word). It’s not really an important issue, but it does stick out when all the other characters do have Scandinavian or European sounding names. Roger is played by Aksel Hennie, an award winning Norwegian actor and director, and his character in Headhunters is indeed a headhunter, but not in an exciting way. Roger works as a headhunter in recruitment, looking for the right men for the job at the highest level of business. But that is not all he does. He lives in an expensive house, with a beautiful wife who he thinks is out of his league, so in order to fund a lavish lifestyle, he is also an art thief.
Frustrated that his latest theft has only brought him 20,000 Krone, he starts to hope for the one big theft that could give him enough money to get out of the game. When he meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) at the opening of his wife’s art gallery, it appears that he might have found his last job. Greve is in the country after the death of his grandmother, and Roger discovers that Greve has a Rubens painting worth millions in his possession after it was found in his grandmother’s belongings. Roger has a partner, Ove, who works for a security firm and has access to control panels for home alarm systems which allows Roger to sneak in undetected. The pair devise a plan to steal the painting when Clas is in Amsterdam to bring his dog to Norway.
Before leaving Greve’s apartment with the painting, Roger hears children playing outside. He has been reluctant to have a child with his wife, fearing that she would love the child more than him, and after they’ve recently argued about it, he decides to call her. But her phone rings in the apartment, and from then on, Roger’s life is changed, possibly for good.
The next morning, he finds Ove in his car, apparently dead. Panicking, Roger stuffs Ove into the boot of his car, and drives into the countryside. He gets another shock when Ove comes to in the lake Roger has just dumped him into, and Roger starts to realise he is in serious trouble. Roger and Ove argue, and this time Ove definitely does end up dead. When Roger leaves though, he is confronted by Clas, and barely escapes.
The rest of the movie is mostly given over to Clas’ attempts to hunt Roger down, and it’s this part of the movie that was problematic for me. While Roger is trying to stay out of Clas’ clutches, he has to hide in a shit pit under an outdoor toilet, then when his car won’t start, he’s forced to drive off on a tractor (that happens to have Clas’ dead dog impaled on the front of it), and after a spell in hospital when he crashes the tractor, Roger ends up in the back of a police car, sandwiched between two obese twin Norwegian police officers, allowing him to survive almost unharmed when Clas drives a massive truck into the car, sending it flying off a cliff and down onto some rocks beside a river.
These moments seem alternatively slapstick and just far-fetched, especially as every other person in the car when Clas hits it is killed when it lands. But while parts of Clas’ hunt for Roger are a bit odd in the context of the film, Hennie’s performance as Roger is consistently excellent. He’s forced to radically change his appearance and approach to life as he desperately tries to survive, and this transformation is convincingly portrayed.
Despite Hennie’s strong performance, the ending of the film doesn’t quite work. The reason why Clas is hunting Roger doesn’t quite ring true, and the way it is revealed is somewhat clichéd. But despite its flaws, Headhunters is a decent film, and you won’t have wasted your time if you decide to watch it.