Review: Norway sends dark crime comedy ‘Headhunters’ to Fantastic Fest

If you should ever find yourself covered head to toe in human filth and driving a stolen tractor down a country road with an impaled dead dog hanging from the front, worried for your life, chances are you have made a wrong decision somewhere along the way.

Morten Tyldum’s movie “Headhunters” is a member of a very particular sub-genre of film that I love, movies where someone makes a plan to screw someone else, and that plan goes very, very, very wrong.  Done right, there’s something delicious about watching a character get put through the wringer when it’s entirely because of their own ill intent.  In this film, we meet Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), who tells us that he is 1.68 meters tall, and that he compensates for that height in a number of ways in his life. 

He is aggressively confident as he moves through the world, and he is married to a tall stunning Nordic blonde, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), the idea personified.  They live in a house he can’t afford.  He can’t make enough in his work as a corporate headhunter to give Diana the lifestyle he feels that she deserves, and so he also moonlights as an art thief.  We see how he gathers information in one job that allows him to feed jobs to Ove (Eivind Sander), his partner in crime.  Together, they steal paintings and sculptures and replace them with copies, and that’s what keeps Roger afloat.

He knows he’s got it made, and at the beginning of the film, he has a meeting with Jermias Lander (Kyrre Haugen Sydness), a guy who is a candidate for a huge corporate gig.  Roger tells him he’s not going to get it, but he also tells him why and offers to coach him in getting another job down the road.  Roger’s got his eye on a specific candidate for that big job, a foreigner named Clas Greve (Nikolai Coster-Waldau, or as most people know him now, Jamie Lannister), and he’s determined to make the deal happen.  In conversations with Greve, he realizes that the guy owns some art worth stealing, so he puts into a motion a double-edged attack on Greve, never realizing that he may have just made the wrong enemy.

This is one of those movies where the set-up is deliberate and takes some time, but once it reaches a certain point, it’s all payoff.  It’s just one great scene after another as Roger’s entire world implodes, and he has to figure out a new way to put things back together.  Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg wrote the script, adapting a novel by Jo Nesbo, and it’s enormously clever about the way things unfold.  They’re strong with character, and very strong with structure, and Tyldum’s shot the film well.  This is the sort of film that Hollywood tries to make but often can’t, a slick ride with a few great roles and a crowd-pleasing script that doesn’t pander.

In addition, there was a short film screened called “The Candidate,” directed by David Karlak and written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, that was so sharp that I actually thought it was the opening scene of the feature.  Robert Picardo and Tom Gulagher star in a wicked little tale of a society that wishes for the death of certain people in the world.  I would love to see them turn this short into a feature, and it feels like it was designed as a proof of concept.  Consider me convinced.

Magnolia Pictures owns “Headhunters” for the US, but there’s no release date yet.