Friday, June 8, 2012

At the Movies: Headhunters

At the Movies with Michael5000

Headhunters (Hodejegerne)
Morten Tyldum, 2011.

imbd: 8.8
Ebert: Three and a half Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%(!) Fresh

As we left the theater after this cheerful, violent Norwegian crime thriller, I heard a woman behind me remark "I think that movie was funnier than it was supposed to be." I don't agree with her, though. I think that Headhunters is exactly as funny as it was supposed to be, deliberately comic behind its surface mask of an intricate criminal escapade.

The setup is promising from the get-go. Our "hero," more or less, is Oslo's top corporate recruiter (half of the title's double meaning), but he spends so extravagantly to support his high-maintenance wife that he has to dabble in art theft on the side to make ends meet. The stakes go up dramatically when a candidate for a high-level executive position turns out to have a long-missing Rubens original, deep scars from his career in military special operations, and something fishy going on with the hero's wife. The machinery of the genre plays out nicely from there, with lots of predictable surprises, lots of genuinely surprising surprises, and the kinds of questions about who is or isn't lying to whom that lead to additional speculation after you've left the theater.

But the thriller logic of Headhunters is also an elaborate container for a kind of sustained joke in which a reasonably likable guy has a bad day that just keeps getting worse and worse and worse and worse and worse. Well, it's two days really, but the degree of shock, horror, and degradation he goes through is so hyperbolic that, if you have a healthy sense of pleasure at the misfortune of others, you will be chuckling heartily despite your better self. At one point in the movie, the protagonist is naked but covered in a thick layer of human shit, desperately trying to outrace an ominous black SUV down a forest road, at night, driving an antique farm tractor on the front forks of which an enormous white dog has recently been impaled. That's a really bad day. The dog glows luminously in the Scandinavian night, and the lights of the SUV play through the steam coming off of his smear of filth. And this, I must point out, is before things really start getting bad.

Headhunters might be a little hard to find outside of the Scandinavian nations, but will be worth your effort if you share my and Mrs.5000's sense of the macabre. There are a few moments of graphic grasping and panting, and quite a few moments of appalling gore. You can close your eyes for those parts, if you want.

"The Caledonian Boar Hunt" by Rubens, the closest real-life equivalent of the
not-especially-Rubenesque fictional Rubens painting in "Headhunters."

"The Brooch" by (Norwegian) Edvard Munch, a real-life
lithograph a print of which gets stolen in "Headhunters."


Jenners said...

I have the book version and plan on reading that first. It is by Jo Nesbo (of the Harry Hole books) if you're interested.

Michael5000 said...

Dang, I looked right at "Jo Nesbo" on the poster without making the connection.