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Headhunters (2011)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/28/2012

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/9/2012

Quick, name five movies from northern Europe that you've seen. OK, how about one? I try to dabble in international cinema whenever I can, but I seldom see movies from Scandinavia come across my desk. The only ones which I can think of right off of the top of my head are Dead Snow, Troll Hunter, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The first two films on that list are from Norway, a country which has apparently seen more of its movies exported in recent years. The latest Norwegian movie to hit American shores is Headhunters. Can this crime thriller set a new standard for movies from this region?

Headhunters introduces us to Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a successful businessman who is married to the beautiful Diana (Synnove Macody Lund). Roger has a very interesting life. He works as a corporate recruiter, a “headhunter”, who helps to find new jobs for people who already have good jobs. Despite the fact that Roger is the best in his field, due to his short stature -- he’s 5’ 6” -- he feels that he doesn’t make enough money to keep his statuesque blonde wife happy. So, Roger is also an art-thief who breaks into the homes of the wealthy, replacing their valuable paintings with forgeries. At a party, Roger meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a man from Denmark who has retired to Norway, having left a successful GPS company. Roger tells Clas that a major GPS firm is looking for a new executive and that he can arrange an interview. Clas tells Diana, who is opening an art gallery, that he’s inherited a rare painting from his grandmother -- one which was taken by the Nazis. Hearing this, Roger decides to rob the man. However, Roger has chosen the wrong target this time, as Clas is a very dangerous man who doesn’t like to be robbed.

Headhunters is based on a novel by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian writer whose books got a big push in the U.S. following the success of The Girl Who... novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. I’ve not read the source novel for Headhunters, but, based on the film, the material is much lighter fare than Larsson’s books. Yes, there is violence and sex and double-crosses, but it doesn’t care the punk rock nihilism found in the adventures of Lisbeth Salander.

Instead, Headhunters presents us with a very quirky movie. When was the last time that we saw a film where the main character’s motivation was a Napoleon complex? The characters here are well-drawn and more complex than we suspect at first glance. Roger Brown is one of the most multi-faceted characters to hit the screen in a while and to say that he’s complex would be an understatement. The same can be said for Clas, whose suave exterior hides a sinister persona. The actors essaying these roles do a good job. Hennie, who resembles a cross between Steve Buscemi and David Spade, starts the film a cool, even cold guy, but as his life gets out of control, we see his true depth. Coster-Waldau, best known to American audiences for his role as Jaime Lannister on Game of Thrones, is somewhat similar in his approach. Clas comes across as a ladykiller and then simply becomes a killer.

As with the characters, the story unfolds as the movie progresses. What begins as a simple art heist turns into a cross-country chase as Roger tries to evade Clas. Roger plans his crimes very carefully and while he knows that getting caught is a possibility, he never expected to be hunted. We watch these two men wage war, but it’s not until the third act that we learn the exact reasons for why this is happening. The result is both surprising and somewhat cynical, as we learn that the theft of a painting was the least of what was happening here.

I did have two issues with Headhunters. First of all, we learn why Roger is an art thief, but we never learn where he got the skill-set or know-how to be an art thief. Anyone can say, “I want to steal art to support my gold-digging wife.”, but how does one go about starting this? Secondly, while the movie has some nice bursts of action, it also drags at times. This affected by enjoyment of the film, but I can’t necessarily consider it a flaw, as Headhunters merely reflects the often languid pace found in European movies. Still, the story is interesting, the characters are intriguing, and I loved the last line.

Headhunters shows the psychological damage which being short can do on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source material. Although the overall palette is slightly muted, the colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, as we can make out textures on objects, and the image shows a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.4 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and the English subtitles are easy to read. (If you choose the dubbed track, you get subtitles which only translate on-screen text, which is a nice touch.) The stereo effects are a bit subtle, but they work well in crowd and street scenes. The film’s over-the-top set-piece (you’ll know it when you see it) offers excellent surround sound and subwoofer effects, placing us squarely in the action.

The Headhunters Blu-ray Disc contains only two special features. "Behind the Scenes of Headhunters" (23 minutes) contains comments from the filmmakers and the cast, as well as some on-set footage. There is a discussion of the story and the characters, as well as the film's themes. The director and cinematographer also mention their desire to make something which looked like a big-budget American movie, but on a Norwegian budget. (Which is interesting, as, as noted above, it's still paced like a European film at times.) The piece profiles the primary actors and the director and we get to see how some of the key scenes were shot. The only other extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long