Oh, what ridiculously bloody and nasty fun! Norwegian director Morten Tyldum takes Jo Nesbo's savage and macabre cat-and-mouse thriller of a novel and turns it into a darkly comical caper that'd make Elmore Leonard and the Coen brothers proud. Filled with oddball cutthroats, well-lubricated plotting, and Hitchcockian-style direction, Headhunters is a sordid blast of delirious violence, brutal corporate satire, and male inadequacy.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a suave, diminutive, morally challenged corporate headhunter who feeds his ever-growing need for cash with a sideline in art theft. Using information he wheedles out of top candidates for executive positions, and partnered with a crooked home security technician, Roger breaks into the homes of the elite and replaces their art with cheap copies. He uses the money to pay his oversized bills and keep his statuesque wife (Synnove Macody Lund) happy. After all, why else would someone as beautiful as she be in love with someone as short as he. Unfortunately, recent scores haven't kept pace with Roger's spending.
Enter Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who looks an awful lot like Aaron Eckhart), a handsome tech exec who has asked Roger's gallery-owning wife to authenticate a long-lost Rubens painting found in his deceased aunt's home. Roger proceeds to recruit Clas for a corporate rival while scheming to steal the multimillion-dollar rarity. It's only after he nabs the painting that he finds himself in deep shit — literally, at one point. Not only is he pursued by Greve, who turns out to be an ex-Army commando, but grisly murders, infidelity and even a case of mistaken identity provide a labyrinthine set of twists, complications and red herrings.
Headhunters barrels along at a breakneck pace, gleefully delivering Roger one vicious and grotesque comeuppance after another, making his fall from grace humiliating and complete. And still, this prickly and desperate little man manages to use his wits and willpower to survive.
As cretinous as Roger is, the terrific Hennie instills within him a perseverance that commands respect and the kinds of insecurities that'll elicit familiarity if not sympathy. He's a creep who deserves everything he has coming to him — and yet you can't help but root for the guy.
Tyldum further ups the ante by mocking the dick-swinging fragility of male egos while rebuking the odious blank-faced behaviors they bring to modern corporate culture. It's a rare filmmaker who can combine criminal suspense with mischievous satire, and one only hopes that Hollywood's current plan to adapt the film for American audiences includes a star and director who can match the two Norwegians' talents. —Jeff Meyers
Opens Friday, May 18 at the Landmark Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.