The Daily Stream: 'Headhunters' is the Smart and Sleek Thriller for Action Junkies

The Daily Stream: 'Headhunters' is the Smart and Sleek Thriller for Action Junkies

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: Headhunters

Where You Can Stream It: Kanopy and Hoopla

The Pitch: Directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, Passengers), this Norwegian action/thriller mashes up all sorts of disparate, varying tones that wouldn’t seem to belong (much less succeed) in the same movie…but they do. The film begins as a straightforward enough crime drama and steadily expands outwards like a Russian doll set, mixing tones and even genres with a sort of renegade glee that simply doesn’t exist often enough in most American films. Even beyond that, it’s also an effectively tense and densely-plotted thrill ride in its own right that holds its own against any number of recent blockbusters.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Headhunters follows the plight of an unassuming, bland-looking, and self-consciously short-statured businessman named Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) who appears to be living the dream. Everything is perfect, far more so than he has any right to expect: his talented and gorgeous wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), their wildly expensive house, his finely-tailored suits.

The extravagant lifestyle, however, belies a secret gnawing away at the heart of Roger. Despite his well-paying job as a “headhunter”, a corporate recruiter with a vicious streak for getting the right person at any cost, he simply can’t support such lavishness on his own. Luckily, his wife is an art gallery owner and this gives Roger access to all sorts of interesting individuals. Not for anything work-related, but as potential victims of his cleverly-staged art heists.

From here on out, audiences are left to wait for the other shoe to drop. Roger and his small but trusted circle of collaborators are total pros, with Roger coercing his targets with promises of job opportunities to get them out of their house and let his team swoop in. This well-oiled machine can’t possibly continue forever, especially when a seemingly foolproof plan practically falls into Roger’s lap at one of his wife’s art exhibitions. Played with a deft touch by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Clas Greve soon appears and mixes Roger’s work life with his secret criminal life to an almost irrecoverable extent.

The twisting-and-turning plot that subsequently unfolds is worth the watch alone as if writers Ulf Ryberg and Lars Gudmestad are practically daring viewers to keep up with every trick they’re hiding up their sleeves. Shot with a keen eye by Tyldum and his impressive flair for meaningful shot selections, the rest of the film alternates wildly between a morality play and a darkly humorous farce. Roger is put through the wringer, to put it mildly, constantly deserving every ounce of cosmic punishment that comes his way. Not only does Headhunters boast one of the grossest yet most inspired escapes from a sticky situation I’ve seen in years, but it also features a memorably tense action sequence that pushes characters (and physics?) to the absolute limit.

The script is a screenwriter’s dream, driven almost entirely by character-centric, cause-and-effect storytelling while still finding time and space to insert plenty of subtle (and, in retrospect, less subtle) clues and callbacks that will have you itching for a second watch right after the credits roll. Coming across like Jason Bourne by way of Guy Ritchie (though I’d put this higher than any of Ritchie’s similar efforts, personally), the film even manages to balance out its brutality and darkness by offering up some unexpectedly sweet sentiments and moving moments of humanity.

Although there has been no word in quite a few years, the film was at one point set to be remade in English as either a feature film or even a television series. When it comes to foreign films, the Hollywood instinct to remake titles tends to be a solid indicator of just how great the original was. Should Headhunters eventually follow suit, you’ll definitely want to watch the original so you can brag to everyone else about the dearth of creativity in Hollywood these days.

After all, that’s pretty much what I just did here. But whatever your motivations to watch this movie, it doesn’t hurt that Headhunters is also a nonstop blast.

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