He’s cocky yet insecure and compensates for his mediocrity with wealth, but the most astonishing thing about Roger Brown is his Norwegian heritage. Someone who spends his days recruiting top talent and his nights stealing their art just feels more Hollywood than Oslo. Even more so considering an L.A.-sanctioned remake of this Scandinavian crime thriller is now in the works.
For now, Morten Tyldum’s Nordic neo-noir should be enough to tide audiences over. Roger (Aksel Hennie) seizes the opportunity to make millions by going on one last heist. Only then, he tells us in a surprisingly candid voiceover, will he have enough money to keep his statuesque blond wife from leaving him. So Roger tries to nab a Rubens from former special ops commando Clas Greve (Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but things sour and he’s forced to run. The ensuing cat-and-mouse chase is anything but original, yet Hennie’s nuanced performance makes the proceedings feel welcomingly fresh. As arrogant anti-hero Roger suffers a near-fatal car crash and endeavors to change his identity, Hennie injects the right hint of vulnerability into his character.
That meekness is what makes the film palatable at its most ridiculous — like when Roger steals a page from Slumdog Millionaire and seeks shelter in a pile of excrement. In fact, throughout Headhunters, Tyldum skillfully balances the action endemic to thrillers with wicked humor and moody shots of the Norwegian countryside. Sloppy sentimentality and occasional crudeness are the movie’s frustrating downsides, but just imagine how those will stick once Hollywood has its say.