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1 April 2012

Heads Will Roll

The joke was on me this morning. No, not an April Fool's Day joke--just a simple reading comprehension error. I had a ticket to a preview screening of Headhunters, the latest Scandi-crime thriller, at the Ritzy in Brixton. With no Victoria Line this weekend, I had to get up pretty early to ensure that the meandering number two bus got me to the cinema in time to get a seat. But when I rocked up at the Ritz at about 9.45, I was told (rather bluntly) that the cinema was closed. Oooookay... Another employee came over and explained that the preview was actually at 11, not 10. Oops. I retreated to the only coffee shop on the Brixton Road, a trying-too-hard-to-be-hip Costa. Luckily, I had a book to read; unluckily, it was This Is Life by Dan Rhodes, which proved rather too scatalogical for me.

Eventually, 10.45 rolled around and I took my place in the cinema. Headhunters is based on the book of the same name by Jo Nesbø, whose series of books starring the flawed-but-brilliant Norwegian detective Harry Hole, are usually seen with stickers proclaiming Nesbø as "the next Stieg Larsson." I read Headhunters a few months ago and although I quite liked it, I preferred the Harry Hole books. I guess "brilliant headhunter who uses interviews as a means of obtaining information he can use to burgle the candidates" is a more original character than "brilliant but troubled detective."

The headhunter in question is Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) who, as he keeps telling us, is only 1.68 m, and has a serious case of short-man syndrome. He's convinced his beautiful, tall girlfriend Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) will leave him for a taller man and to compensate, lives in a house he can't afford and buys her trinkets that are pricey enough to give his bank manager a heart attack. To supplement his income, he has a little burglary racket going: whenever he interviews someone for a job (and these jobs are usually CEOs for multinational companies), he subtly gets the candidate to reveal whether they have any expensive art, whether the wife/cleaner will be at home and which alarm system they use. His buddy Ove, who works at one of the alarm companies, then disables the alarm for a few minutes, allowing Roger to go inside and steal the art, replacing it with a fake. Ove nips over to Sweden to sell it on the black market and everyone wins.

But Roger soon meets his match in the form of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a tall, handsome Dutchman whom Roger wants to place in the top spot at the company of one of his clients. He may also be sleeping with Diana--oh, and it seems there may also be a temptingly valuable Rubens painting lurking in Clas's aunt's flat. It should be a simple snatch-and-grab operation for Roger but things soon spiral out of control and he is forced to go on the run, wondering if he can trust anyone in his life.

Headhunters is hard-going and it's very violent but it is also pretty funny, or at least darkly comic. There is a lot of blood and gore and bashed-in faces, but there are lighter moments, including a disgusting but also rather funny (odd) scene that, echoing my earlier reading material, was a little too scatological (I'm not sure if it was worse in the book or the film; both were pretty bad). Equally, there are two obese twin policemen, who reminded me a lot of Thompson and Thomson, who add some levity to the film. The plot is as twisty as some of those mountain back roads shown in the film. Having read the book, I knew what was coming but I can imagine that some might find it a little too convoluted. The other problem is that none of the characters is remotely sympathetic; Roger, the anti-hero, is arrogant, greedy, selfish and insecure and for much of the film, I didn't really want him to have a happy ending. Not that I was rooting for anyone else either. Still, the unlikable characters annoyed me less in the film than the book; maybe this is because I only had to put up with them for 1h40 in the film, or maybe the book's first-person narration by Roger was too much for me.

Overall, Headhunters is a slick, fast-paced and clever thriller. It isn't for the faint-hearted--or those who are about to eat--but I thought the blackly-comic and quirky scenes brought a nice balance to the ambition, gore and violence.

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