Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Film Review - 'Headhunters'

By day, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a corporate headhunter renowned for his ability to find the best person for a particular job - but, by night, Roger freelances as a professional art thief. His strategy is simple. First, he carefully maneuvers conversations with wealthy clients to the topic of art, in order to find out whether they happen to have any expensive pieces in their collection. Next, he makes a series of 'harmless' inquiries to find out when they're next going to be out of town. Then, while they're gone, he breaks in to their houses and steals the piece of art - replacing it with a copy, and selling the original. With his partner, Ove Kjikerud (Eivind Sander), able to use his position at a security company to temporarily shut off the security system in his target's house during the burglary, Roger's criminal activities are practically untraceable.

Despite his carefully maintained outward appearance of confidence, Roger is actually a man plagued by insecurities - particularly with regard to his beautiful wife, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund). Everything he does, including his art theft, seems motivated by his belief that she will inevitably leave him if he cannot maintain their high-class life-style. His latest efforts involve financing the opening of Diana's own art gallery - something which is clearly putting a fair amount of strain on his expenses.

Even with his profitable heists, Roger's obsession with living beyond his means leaves him constantly in debt. What he needs is one big score - a piece that will bring in enough money to set him up for the rest of his life. Fortunately, just such an opportunity seems to fall into his lap when his wife introduces him to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Meeting him at the opening of Diana's gallery, Roger seem learns that Clas is in possession of an incredibly rare piece of art - a rare Rubens that might be worth millions to the right buyer. Under the guise of recruiting Clas, Roger goes through the motions of preparing for what might be his last theft. Learning that Clas happens to be an ex-solider, and formerly part of a special unit skilled in tracking targets, gives him a moment of doubt. The potential pay-off is simply too enticing for Roger to let pass, though, so he decides to go ahead with this latest heist, anyway.

While making his way through Clas's home, though, Roger happens to find his wife's phone left beside his bed - clearly indicating that the two have been having an affair. He is, naturally, disturbed by this sudden development - but, is not in a position to do anything about it.

Later, though, Roger barely avoids what was clearly a murder attempt - one that involves a poisoned syringe carefully positioned in the driver's seat of his car. And, from there, things only seem to get worse? But, why is Roger's life suddenly in danger? Does Clas somehow know about the theft? Are Clas and Diana working together? Or, is it something else entirely? Well, those are the questions which drive the film so, naturally, I'm not going to answer any of them here.

It's not long until Roger finds himself in entirely over his head, though - involved in a desperate game of 'cat and mouse' for reasons that he doesn't entirely understand. It's not long until Roger is left simply struggling to survive, as he is stalked by a skilled, and very dangerous, opponent.

One thing that will become very clear, very quickly, is that Roger Brown just isn't a very likable character. Aside from his nightly criminal activities, he is a man clearly given to insufferable smugness in his dealings with the people around him. He is also the sort of man who, even as he doubts his wife's faithfulness, is still perfectly willing to engage in illicit affairs of his own - and, who coldly and abruptly ends things with his 'mistress' the moment she makes the mistake of treating their time together as an actual relationship. He is not an easy character for the audience to root for (or, even, like) - or, at least, that is the case, at first.

Clas, on the other hand, is charming and likable (again, at first). He is a naturally charismatic figure whose only real flaw, as far as Roger is concerned, is the lingering fear that Roger's wife might find him attractive.

The stark contrast between the two men is, clearly, very deliberate - and, it only becomes more pronounced as their roles begin to change. Roger may be smug and unlikable for much of the film's first act - but, the pain and suffering he is forced to endure just to survive long enough to figure out why his life is suddenly in danger is certain to gradually change the audience's impression. It also doesn't hurt that Roger proves to be genuinely clever and resourceful when his back is against the wall (honestly, anyone who is willing to hide in the pit beneath an outhouse to have his own life deserves a little respect, at least). The audience's impression of Clas, too, will also be subject to change with the revelation that much of his natural charm and charisma seems to be an act.

Headhunters is the sort of film that clearly revels in setting up a variety of red herrings for the audience - and, in leading us through a wide variety of plot-twists and revelations before ultimately revealing what is actually going on. I will admit, though, that it did all occasionally become a bit too muddled to easily follow - and, I did have a bit of trouble putting all of the pieces together, by the end of the film. Was that my own fault, though? Was I simply not paying close enough attention to what was being revealed? Or, could the film have done a better job in this regard? Either way, it was a bit of a shame - since the difficulties I had did go some way toward spoiling what had been a very entertaining film, up until that point.

It is also, often, an incredibly violent film, though - and, one that might be a bit much for those amoung the audience who might be a bit squeamish about realistic portrayals of violence. The film almost seems to revel in confronting the audience with this sort of bloody and cringe-inducing imagery. By the end, Roger will have been stabbed, shot, attacked by a dog, and left covered in blood after barely surviving a car crash. It's all a bit exhausting - and, the film doesn't feel any particular need to spare us any of the gory details.

While the question of whether this sort of violence is ever truly necessary is, occasionally, a worthwhile one, I would probably have to argue that it actually is, here. It's the violence that Roger is forced to endure, more than anything, which will turn the audience's impression in his favour - and, his ability to overcome this same violence becomes an important source of character growth, throughout the film.

Headhunters is also, thankfully, a very entertaining thriller - one well served by great performances from its cast. Though, much of the success of the film probably should be credited to Aksel Hennie, in particular. Everyone played their part well, of course, but it's fairly clear that Headhunters was his film, and he was the one carrying it.

Headhunters is grim and violent, and occasionally darkly funny - it is definitely well worth the time of any fan of the Scandinavian take on the thriller genre.

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