Headhunters/Hodejegerne (2011): Short Man Attitude…

At the risk of sounding like an old Carlsberg lager advertisement, Headhunters is probably the best film adaptation of a book…ever. With a screenplay by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg based on the book by Jo Nesbo and directed by Morten Tyldum, Headhunters is a thriller of the highest order with more than capable acting from all involved.

The film stars Aksel Hennie as the 1.68 metre hero Roger Brown; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the Dutchman Clas Greve (and if ever there was a man born to play Resident Evil’s Leon Kennedy it’s Nikolaj, he looks like he’s stepped right out of Resi 4 or Resi 6); Nikolaj will be better known by English audiences from his work on Game of Thrones. The two female leads in the film are Synnøve Macody Lund as Diana Brown and Julie R. Ølgaard as the scheming Lotte. Synnøve is not an actress by profession, she’s a journalist and this is her first film. That she acquitted herself so well is amazing.

I first saw Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the 1994 Norwegian film Nightwatch. Interestingly, this was remade in 1997 as a vehicle for Ewan McGregor who went on to work with Nikolaj in 2001’s Blackhawk Down. It is interesting in that both actors display similar virtues in their work, a subtlety and awareness that enhance their performances and make them stand out in a film.

For those of you who have read Jo Nesbo’s brilliant book, you will know the plot already. If you have not had the pleasure of reading Headhunters, I suggest you rush down to your local book seller or library and do so. In the mean time, you will have to follow my recitation of the plot.

Roger Brown is one of Norway’s best headhunters. He is married to Diana and he lives a lavish lifestyle well above his salary. To supplement this lifestyle, he steals valuable art work and sells them with the help of his partner in crime Ove Kijkerud (played with a certain comic deviousness by Eivind Sander, who looked maddeningly familiar to me). Despite Roger’s supplemental income, he’s running low on financial resources and Diana is desperate for a child after seven years of marriage.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie)

While attending his wife’s art gallery opening he meets Clas Greve via an introduction by Diana. Roger discovers that Clas, who is the ex-CEO of a multimillion dollar GPS company a priceless painting in his possession and that he would be perfect for Roger’s current client Pathfinder. A Norwegian GPS company searching for a new CEO.

When Roger (with the aid of Ove) breaks into Clas’s flat to steal the painting, he finds Diana’s mobile (cell) phone in the bedroom. The next time he sees Clas, he tells him that the company is still interviewing candidates for the new position and he tells Diana that he will not be recommending Clas for the job.

Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)

We see Ove going to Roger’s house to presumably pick up the painting. The next morning Roger goes to his garage to get in his car to drive to work. He discovers Ove apparently dead in the front seat of his car. Panicking, Roger shoves Ove into the boot (trunk) of his car just as Diana comes down to see if he (Roger) is all right.

Roger takes Ove’s body to a lake and fills the body’s pockets with stones and rolls Ove into the lake. As Roger sits on the lake shore catching his breath, Ove suddenly appears gasping for his breath only to sink under the water again. Roger jumps in and drags Ove out and takes him to his house.

Ove tries to shoot Roger and ends up getting shot for his trouble. Roger’s life had become a scary cat and mouse game with him as the mouse. Clas will not stop until he has killed Roger.

The locations are beautiful and the cinematography is superb. Despite the “creative license” taken with the book, the film works and manages to crank the suspense up just as effectively as the novel itself did. You still find yourself second guessing and because certain things were changed in the film, you hold your breath at the end, just in case it doesn’t turn out how you expected it to.

Askel does a brilliant job as Roger Brown, the short man with attitude. He seemed to me (looks wise) to be an odd cross between Christopher Walken and David Hemmings. His acting was spot on, morphing effortlessly from over-confident prig to terrified victim to desperate fighter. He rang all the changes necessary to sell his character.

Nikolaj has always made me think of Sean Bean, they could almost be brothers, and he has not disappointed me yet in anything I’ve seen him in.

The film can be viewed in Norwegian with English subtitles and I would highly recommend viewing it that way. It is very rare that dubbed versions are as enjoyable as the original language version. I always feel that a huge amount is lost by having another actor voice the lines. I would give Headhunters a whopping 5 out of 5 stars and class it as a two bag of popcorn film.

Don’t miss it and don’t wait for the remake, see it now!

Clas and his best friend on the hunt for Roger.
 

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo: A Killer Interview…

As you can see from the front of the book Headhunters will soon be a “MAJOR MOTION PICTURE” although technically it already is. Released in 2011 from Norway the film opened to positive reviews from both sides of the Atlantic. I am surprised that a Hollywood motion picture studio has not already given Headhunters the “Hollywood remake treatment.” Hollywood was certainly quick enough to re-make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Headhunters is a relatively short book, almost a novella, at only 265 pages. But in this “short” novel Jo Nesbo manages to pack one hell of a great sucker punch for the reader lucky enough to have stumbled upon his book.

I became a Nesbo fan after coming across a blurb talking about his latest Harry Hole thriller. The name was enough to make me curious and I read the Hole book (sorry about the pun) and fell in love with not only his protagonist, but the writer as well. Although Headhunters does not feature Harry nor is it part of the series, Nesbo displays the same crisp narrative as he does for his serial killer hunter.

Headhunters starts with introducing us to Roger Brown, he’s an exclusive (top of the heap, he says) recruiting specialist aka a headhunter. He’s the best at what he does and is well compensated for his efforts. He uses a 7 point FBI interrogation model as his interview template and he is ruthless in his search for the right candidate.

Brown also suffers from what a friend of mine amusingly refers to as “short man’s attitude.” In other words his lack of height makes him a bit egotistical and aggressive. He also highly values his own capabilities as a recruiter, husband, and thief.

It turns out that Roger has a pretty opulent lifestyle, one which he supplants with art theft from his potential candidates. Using the interview as a distraction and a means to discover what valuable art the interviewees own, he then steals them with the aid of his criminal partner.

One candidate, Clas Greve (a high flyer in the world of GPS manufacture and an ex-mercenary) has a priceless painting by Paul Rueben and here is where the story takes off. It changes from the Napoleon-esque ramblings of egocentric Roger Brown and becomes a fight for survival.

The opening salvo from Nesbo is a scene where Roger is in a crashed car surrounded by dead bodies and Roger is extolling his thoughts on car crashes and the resultant mayhem caused by them. He finishes his thoughts with the explanation that he is a murderer and that his time is short. He then goes on to relay his story to us via the first person narrative which works very well for the book.

Nesbo is brilliant at setting up stories that move quickly and efficiently throughout. His pacing is electric and his characters stand out. He is also not averse to pulling the metaphorical wool over the eyes of his readers. Roger goes through a character arc that explains a lot about who he is and how he became the man he is now and will soon be.

Clas is a truly scary man who, as an ex-mercenary, is more than capable of tracking down and killing his prey. Both Clas and Roger are predators of a dissimilar nature, but as the story evolves they merge to become the same type of killing machine.

My only disappointment with the book was that at 265 pages it was too short a read. Still entertaining and so fast paced it left me breathless, but, damn it could have been a little longer.

I will now have to watch the Norwegian film that was based on the book. Although, according to Wikipedia at any rate, the film does deviate somewhat from the novel. If ever a book had been written that screamed to be made into a film, Headhunters is that book.

I would definitely give the book a full five out of five stars. Full of fascinating characters and, once the books shifts into fifth gear midway, grips you fiercely until the end. Headhunters is just another winning “Scandi-crime” thriller from author Jo Nesbo.