Calling all flick-freaks who share a venomous contempt for arrogant yuppie scum! “Headhunters,” Morten Tyldum’s Norwegian nerve-jangler, is cause for vindictive celebration. Salute this twisty, ice-cold mindbender with a Pabst Blue Ribbon and embrace the humbling fate of 5’6” Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a snarky, snot-nosed corporate headhunter with serious Napoleon issues.
Strutting through the high-rise recruitment rooms where he teases applicants with the promise of lucrative jobs, Roger is c**k-of-the-walk. Beyond the privileged land of high-rises and caviar, however, his bulging eyes suggest paralyzing fear and anxiety. Nervously pacing a sprawling, gazillion-dollar house that screams ostentatious, Roger’s stubby-man insecurities are only made more painful by Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), his tall-as-a-conifer trophy wife.
Roger is living well beyond his means. Thus, he’s taken on a moonlighting job to bring home the bacon that, we detect, might be compensating for his own self-perceived lack of bacon. Our blonde, white-collar scoundrel is also a seasoned art thief. Remember that vintage Peter Paul Rubens painting stashed in your cellar? Watch out – Roger’s perfected the art of the snatch: garbed in black Ninja stretch-suit, he’ll nab the art in four minutes, and leave a counterfeit copy in its place.
“Sooner or later,” assures Roger, “you find a work of art so valuable that you never need to work again….or, you get caught.” But this self-proclaimed risk-taker is willing to proceed with his illegal side-job as long as it keeps Diana cocooned within the garish lifestyle she craves. Meanwhile, Roger’s serious financial issues are confirmed when an accountant warns him that he’s in debt a hundred thousand clams in fancy dinners alone.
The potential solution to Roger’s considerable money problems materializes in the form of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a ruggedly handsome combat veteran and retired GPS-company mogul. Not only does Greve assume he’ll be hired by Roger to run a mammoth tracking-system corporation, but he’s also in possession of a paint-slathered canvas worth a hundred million dollars.
Seemingly, Roger has the stronger stream in this Alpha Male pissing contest. He can fatten his own reputation by hiring the prestigious Grebe, while simultaneously stealing his prized painting.
But there’s a big splatter of unsightly paint soiling this scenario. Roger has reason to believe that Greve is sleeping with Diana. Suddenly, the jealous headhunter isn’t in such a hurry to hire this traitorous cocksman. But considering Greve’s reputation as a Special Forces Warrior who describes his battlefield niche as “the tracking of humans,” is this a good idea?
Forget torture porn. “Headhunters” is yuppie scorn-porn. Bug-eyed, button-downed Roger is put through a ringer that will astound and delight suit-haters on a rapturous level. Neck-gnawing pit bull. Metal-mangling vehicular head-on with a 40-ton big rig. Knife wounds. And the piece-de-resistance: Roger’s submersion into the thick, fecal quicksand of a rural outhouse.
Alright, already. Only the most callous soul would argue that any man – even a nose-in-the-air elitist like Roger – deserves to endure such harrowing abuse. Perhaps this humbling humiliation might just be the catalyst for jump-starting Roger’s cold heart.
“Headhunters” has plenty of intriguing ideas woven into its complicated tapestry of paranoia, deceit, and violent redemption. Its depiction of a protagonist at the complete and utter mercy of high-tech surveillance echoes Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” while its taut, relentless man-hunt recalls Andrew Davis’ “The Fugitive.”
Obviously, this is a cold tale about callous people. Even so, “Headhunters” is a bit emotionally paint-by-numbers for my tastes. Even when Roger lets his guard completely down and explains the vulnerable underpinnings behind his insecurity, it’s a bit stagey and stiff. Fellow Scandinavian hits “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Let the Right One In” took on equally frigid scenarios, but punched through the ice with some serious emotional juice.
“Headhunters” might fall short as emotionally resonant art, but it’s a well-paced and cleverly conceived exercise in craft. And let’s face it – there’s something undeniably satisfying about watching Roger emerge from his trials a kinder, gentler soul. The expensive suit and elitist office might still be there, but there’s also a soft humility on display.
A sympathetic yuppie? Impossible. But “Headhunters” gives it one helluva shot to convince us otherwise.