Film review: Headhunters (15)

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The film delivers deceit, disguises and plot twists at a breakneck rate

WITH all due respect to any reader called Roger Brown, you are not – yet – a byword for creative problem-solving, daring larceny or a Napoleon complex. Unless you are Norwegian.

It’s never explained why the central character in Headhunters drives a sturdy, boxy car, has a blonde trophy wife, is unperturbed by scenes of random explicit nudity and thus appears robustly Nordic in everything except his name which, frankly, sounds like the kind that appears on credit cards in TV commercials.

But it’s likely that this name is part of a log-pile of off-notes which have created a rather defensive psychology. Roger (Aksel Hennie) looks like Christopher Walken’s shorter, more ginger brother, and tends to overcompensate by living glamorously in a state-of-the-art glass and chrome Oslo home, with his very tall wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) who he cheats on with a besotted mistress (Julie Ølgaard).

Roger works in recruitment, introducing executives to deep-pocketed corporations, but since his headhunting salary doesn’t begin to cover his lavish lifestyle, he has a second career, stealing expensive works of art from his clients, and replacing them with expert fakes.

The latest target is Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), currently in the market for a new job and with a priceless artwork in his home; a Rubens thought to have been lost in the Second World War. However, he’s also a former special forces commando, and after Roger nicks the picture, the headhunter ends up being hunted by Greve as well as the police. If it sounds simple so far, it’s because at this point the film – like the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple or Fargo – is only cranking up to speed before delivering deceit, disguises, plot twists and gruesome black comedy at a breakneck rate. Directed with insouciant flair by Morten Tyldum, there’s enough preposterousness to set off a Geiger counter – including a security guard who likes to spend his time running round the house shooting live ammo at his delighted Russian prostitute girlfriend, and a bathroom adventure that makes the lavatory scene in Trainspotting look like a wade through a glacier spring.

However, Headhunters is such a fresh, compact, giddy delight, that I was happy to go along with it. For a city slicker, Roger proves a surprisingly creative problem solver, and the tense, inventive chase sequences give him a satisfying arc from corporate weasel to someone worth rooting for.

There’s already an American version of Headhunters in the pipeline. Alas, it stars Mark Wahlberg. See this version now before Hollywood spoils the fun. That means you, Roger.

On general release from Friday

Rating: ****