Roger the dodger's got it all in Headhunters: Meet the anti-hero who's the new master of Nordic noir's dark arts
21:51 GMT, 5 April 2012
22:49 GMT, 5 April 2012
Verdict: Well worth hunting out
Headhunters – based on the Jo Nesbo bestselling crime novel – is the best thriller I’ve seen in months. Don’t let its being Norwegian put you off. Like the Danish TV show The Killing, it’s so gripping you won’t mind the subtitles.
Its unique selling point is a treasurably unpleasant anti-hero, Roger Brown. The fun lies in the way the script puts him through so many humiliations that you can’t help but end up rooting for him.
Roger (superbly played by Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter with a modernist house that’s too expensive for him, and a gorgeous blonde trophy wife (Synnove Macody Lund) he can’t afford either.
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Chillingly brilliant: Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown, a short man driven by insecurities about his inner worthlessness
Moonlighting: The thing that makes Roger interesting is that he has a profitable criminal sideline
She wants babies, but he is more interested in commitment-free sex with his mistress — until she starts getting too possessive, whereupon he callously dumps her.
A short man driven by insecurities about his inner worthlessness (as well he might be), he radiates smirky arrogance, greed and amorality. He also hates dogs, both personally and professionally.
The thing that makes Roger interesting is that he has a profitable criminal sideline. Through his work, he finds out if top-level businessmen have any valuable art — or watchdogs.
Then, with the help of a porn-and-prostitute-loving security man, he breaks into their houses, steals the originals and replaces them with fakes.
Roger’s nice little earner comes unstuck when he steals a priceless Rubens from Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former Dutch special services soldier and newly retired CEO of a surveillance firm.
Clas isn’t just more ruthless and deadly than Roger: he’s taller, more handsome and much too obviously attracted to Roger’s wife. Imagine The Terminator with the sex appeal of Viggo Mortensen. He also has a vicious dog. Suddenly, it’s Clas war.
The trophy wife: Synnove Macody Lund as Diana Brown with Aksel Hennie as Roger
Roger has to go on the run and gradually — in order to rid himself of tracking devices — ditch all signs of his former success. He’s savaged by a pitbull, driven over a cliff and has to hide in 6ft of human waste. And worse is to follow.
Hennie gives one of cinema’s most memorable portrayals of ratlike cunning. With his coiffed blond hair and poached-egg eyes, he’s like a cross between the young James Spader and Steve Buscemi.
As the well-crafted screenplay punishes him for his crimes, he looks more and more like William H. Macy in Fargo: a hapless petty thief who’s ventured into territory that’s way too violent and gruesome.
Director Morten Tyldum ensures there are overtones of David Fincher’s The Game and Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest in the ever-increasing desperation of the leading man, observed with the wry detachment of black comedy.
Roger's nice little earner comes unstuck when he steals a priceless Rubens from Clas Greve – Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (pictured) – a former Dutch special services soldier and newly retired CEO of a surveillance firm
Many Scandinavian thrillers are dour; this one has a welcome, mischievous sense of humour.
Not all of Roger’s behaviour rings true, and not every narrative twist makes perfect sense, but there’s more than enough energy and invention to keep anyone on tenterhooks for the duration.
Many are going to compare Headhunters with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, made by the same producers. To my mind, the new film is far more ingenious and entertaining.
There’s going to be a Hollywood remake, and I bet it won’t be nearly as good. For a start, they’ll try to make the leading man likeable, which will ruin the entire point.
By the end, Roger’s insecurities and faults stand in for our own, and we take a perverse pride in his efforts to survive. The guy may be irredeemable, but at least he acquires self-knowledge — and you can’t help admiring his determination.
Now watch the trailer