Were you impressed by the incredibly slick trailer for Headhunters this past year?
That's good because it's completely fucking mis-leading.
Writing about Headhunters at all seems like doing the film a disservice even if it's praise. It's difficult finding a way to summarize the plot when the film's greatest strength is its many, many surprises.
Simply put, Headhunters is bat-shit insane. I promise to be spoiler free with specific plot points and scenes but even describing the film's tone feels like a bit of a spoiler. So there's some warning in reading this. You're probably better off not reading this, or any other review for that matter.
The film starts out well enough if not a little cliché. Roger Brown opens the film with a witty narration explaining his life. He's an elite job recruiter, a head hunter, but his wealthy lifestyle is afforded to him by stealing valuable works of art from the rich CEOs and business men he meets through his day job. He's a perfectionist and a master of what he does. He takes great pride in his work and in his reputation. All of this is already in the previews.
He also has a major Napoleon complex. Standing at a mere 1.68 meters (5 ft.), he's an almost freakishly short adult male. It's safe to assume he was the butt of jokes and bullying in school and probably never got laid in college. Early in his career, he was someone judged as an easy mark by his competitors, you know, the type that a "friend" would help get a mail clerk position as a "favor" even though he's already overqualified for the regional management position. As someone who stands not much taller at 5' 4, I can tell ya, you ain't getting no respect as a short man. You are most definitely treated differently; women with large tits get more smiles and hellos; men under 5'6 get smirks and rolled eyes. Being short does not make a person deaf, dumb, and blind though. You learn early on that you're going to need to be tougher and smarter than your opponents to get ahead. Someone pushes you down; you break their fucking legs and shatter their jaw so they can't tell anyone about it.
And that's exactly who Roger Brown is. He's a cynical, nasty fuck who keeps himself 3 steps ahead of everyone. Headhunters had me at hello.
Although the film is entertaining from minute one, it all does feels like a little déjà vu. For whatever reason, Layer Cake came to mind for much of the first act.
As an audience, we know that crime may seem glamorous, romantic, and cool in these types of films, but it never pays in the long run. Roger is bound to get caught and that's where the cat and mouse game will begin.
Roger is soon introduced to Clas, a retired CEO from Sweden looking for new work in Norway. Roger learns that Clas owns a fabled painting reportedly stolen by the Germans during WW2. Clas also has military experience and specialized training in "tracking" people making Clas another head hunter of a different and more literal sort.
We know that Roger is going to steal Clas' painting and we know from his immediate introduction that Clas knows more than he's letting on. And thus, the game begins.
But here's the thing.
The trailer for Headhunters promises a polished, intelligent, and very adult thriller. And for the first half hour, it is. But the trailer fails to convey the film's tendency to drift in and out of the realm of pure hardcore genre. Headhunters often gets violent and is sometimes downright nasty. I'm not talking Drive level violent with fleeting moments of viscera and split second quick cuts of gore. I'm talking Hobo with a Shotgun level violent with lingering shots of caved in skulls and.... and... I promised not to spoil anything. While Headhunters is a dramatic thriller, there is also a wild sense of humor that goes well past dark and straight to the macabre. Mr. Brown goes through a similar amount of abuse reminiscent to Bruce Campbell in the Evil Dead films.
And I've probably given away too much already.
How do I warn yet praise the amazing twists in this film?
Headhunters is like an out of control train barreling down a narrow track with a cargo full of explosive material. It teeters back and forth with a constant threat of derailment. The film's tonal shifts are shocking and jarring yet handled with precision. The film often jeers towards becoming silly overkill; it inches over to pure camp yet never actually tips far enough to fall off track and crash. There are moments that brought out verbal reactions of, "get the fuck outta here. Really? Are you fucking kidding me?" But as potentially stupid as things get, it's a hell of a lot of fun. Headhunters succeeds where many many films of its kind almost always fail. It combines high production value, taut suspense, and mature writing with pulpy five and dime fun, and the cheap thrills of a Grand Guignol freak show. Even more surprising is that the film somehow manages to pull off a few legitimately poignant moments of character based drama... Huh... It does everything right that Black Swan did wrong.
It should also be noted that this is a film that's best viewed with an audience. Although no fault of the festival itself, it was a disappointment that last night's screening was not the packed house the film deserved. What can I say? Philly film fans are generally 1 full year behind in supporting good international films. But the people who were in attendance had a ball. There were audible gasps of shock, shouting, cries of "what the fuck?" and "oh my god!" with plenty of cheers in between.
Ultimately, Headhunters is a shallow film and I'm not sure if there's enough beyond the plot twists to revisit, but it should come as no surprise that the film was adapted from a novel by the great Jo Nesbo. Headhunters indeed plays out like a great beach paperback potboiler with all of the many subplots and hidden character motivations. Although I have not read the source material, I am familiar with a few of the Harry Hole books, and it's a shame that Nesbo is too often compared with Stieg Larsson. He's a better writer. Also, Larrson has only actually written 3 fucking fiction novels ( and 1 was probably ghost written). Can critics please stop comparing every fucking crime author from Scandinavia to Stieg?
Obviously, for ScreenAnarchy readers, Headhunters may just be the must see film of the year and it's now tied with Troll Hunter for my favorite foreign genre picture seen in a festival in 2011. This is a film that should blow up from the same word of mouth that lead to Let the Right One In and Old Boy's success. Yet, I'm not sure if this has the same mass appeal due to some of its extremities. Even my mother loved Let the Right In and more recently Point Blanke, but something tells me she'd roll her eyes and shake her head in disgust if I gave her a copy of this.