Is this my favorite film at Fantastic Fest 2011? I think so. The Norwegian film Headhunters offers unbeatable action, surprising twists and turns and an uncommonly clever script. It also has great performances, great cinematography and creates the kind of high tension that most American thrillers only hint at. The plot concerns Roger Brown, corporate headhunter and art thief. He's wildly successful at both careers but still not successful enough to quell his insecurity and financial problems. Part of it is, he's short; a lot shorter in fact, than Diana, his leggy blonde art dealer wife. So when Roger hears about a painting worth millions he sets about setting up the heist all while stringing the owner, handsome young Clas Greve, along for a CEO position. At first all goes as planned but a nervous henchman, a surprising revelation about his marriage and a deadly secret about Clas sends Brown on a nightmare journey in which the painting and the money end up being the least of his worries.
This is expertly written stuff based on a best selling novel of the same name by Jo Nesbo. It will have high appeal to anyone who enjoyed The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo films but, in reality, it's just a great thrilling genre piece. Best of all the subject of Roger and Diane's shaky marriage is addressed in a genuinely moving complex way that ends up being an important part of the tense action filled ending. Headhunters is, in reality, the story of one mans struggle to emerge from the tight cocoon of self reliance into real human relationships but it gets there by way of the some of the best choreographed fight, action and gunplay sequences I've seen in a long time.
The film also has a pretty crazy sense of humor constantly listing toward the chaos in where it takes Roger and what he finds himself compelled to do in order to survive. Everything around these characters screams irony but only the ones who own up to it survive. The audience is liable to find itself cheering and giggling when they aren't on the edge of their seats.
People will recognize Nikolaj Cster-Waldau of A Game of Thrones. His chiseled blonde good looks could have led to a throwaway villain but he is absolutely perfect in the role of Clas slowly revealing his true character. By the time the chase begins Clas becomes genuinely terrifying and this is one film where I truly wondered if the protagonist would live or die. Aksel Hennie of Max Manus is remarkable as Roger Brown, bringing a suave veneer of elegance to the characters palpable insecurities.
Headhunters is a film to catch before it gets remade and, if possible, before it hits DVD or Blu. But no matter how you see it, make you sure you see it. It is a real gem in a year of a strong, strong Fantastic Fest lineup.