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Headhunters–So Close

29 Jun

One of the things I’ve been doing lately, particularly with the NBA and NHL playoffs ending, is diving back in a bit on watching movies. In the last year or so, my wife and I have dumped satellite television in favor of watching all our content via Roku through the internet. And far from being constricting, it has actually increased our viewing enjoyment, as we seek out things we actually want to watch instead of flipping on a TV and mindlessly scrolling through the channel choices and settling for whatever is on. It’s been great, and I will be writing in another post about some of the great movies I’ve watched lately.

Being a guy, the genre I have jumped back into full bore has been crime movies. Doing so inspired me recently to go see Headhunters, the latest thriller to hit the USA out of Norway (with Girl With The Dragon Tattoo having recently led the way). The movie seemed right up my alley, the story of a corporate headhunter who dabbles in stealing high end art on the side. He’s married to a woman who he thinks is out of his league, and when he meets up with a mysterious, suave businessman who might have the multi-million dollar art heist score he’s been waiting for, he sees his way to easy riches. But, surprise, things go horribly wrong. Everything about the previews looked good, from the slick, metallic look of the cinematography, the stylish modern clothes and sets, and the slight hint of comedy mixed in with a cat and mouse suspense story. I was in.

I will say that this was about two thirds of a really fun, very good turn off your realism radar and roll with it movie. Right from the jump, you realize you have to completely suspend your belief at the authenticity of the story. Down to the smallest details, you start out thinking how ridiculously convenient the plot connections are. But you quickly realize that that is part of the fun, it’s a story that is meant to be over the top and contrived. Once you give in to the fun, you just ride along as the main character, Roger, slides further and further into trouble and danger as he starts out trying to outwit his mark but quickly has the tables turned on him and is quickly fighting for his own survival. There are a couple of set pieces and scenarios that, on paper, would probably seem gratuitously over the top. But, on screen, while you will find yourself squirming a bit, you’ll also be shaking your head, laughing and rolling with the almost camp nature of the story and scenes.

The key to it all, besides the slickness of the visuals, is star Aksel Hennie, who plays the lead character, the art thief Roger. Either picture, or look up online, retired tennis star Boris Becker and fashion icon and Fiat scion Lapo Elkann. Combine those two guys and compress them into a mini version, and you have Roger. Part of the storyline is Roger’s insecurity in relation to his wife with how short he is. These and other insecurities play with his mind throughout and Hennie is brilliant at going from completely cool and composed to completely frantic and lost as he realizes what he thinks he knows is all wrong. On the other side of the story is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who stars on TV’s Game of Thrones. Coster-Waldau is sort of a Danish Aaron Eckhart, except smoother and better looking. And in Headhunters, Coster-Waldau plays the hunter to Roger’s hunted, and is not only a threat to Roger’s marriage, but a threat to his life, as well, since Coster-Waldau just happens to be ex-special forces and a trained killer.

None of this gives away too much of the movie, and believe me when I say that the majority of the film is just as fun, if not more so, than the premise would suggest. It’s in the last third of the film, where the movie veers too much away from a fun, yes there’s violence, but it’s so stylish and tongue in cheek that you can’t get too squeamish about it vibe, to an entirely different feel where things turn way too serious, bleak and overly desperate. The walls start to close in on Roger and, quickly, you go from rooting for him to overcome in a cartoony movie world to being kind of overwhelmed that his lack of hope. There’s a long section where Roger is reduced to hacking off his hair, facing possibly losing his wife and his life, and seeing no hope. The movie starts to philosophize and take itself much too seriously. And the fun and games of allowing yourself to be manipulated in an increasingly ridiculous hamster wheel maze is sucked right away from you. For a brief time, you’re left a little numb by it all. The movie does finish up with one of the more inventive, in a roll your eyes and laugh at the improbability of it all type of way, endings you will ever see. So, you do get to leave with a decent smile on your face. But, unfortunately, some damage is done to the fun ride you could have been on for a full film.

Word is that a Hollywood remake is already in the works for this. In a lot of cases, Hollywood versions of foreign films end up being too watered down and sanitized to be as good as the original. In this case, I think we could be looking at a really fun remake. Because chances are that here, a decision to avoid any of the seriousness of the original and just roll with a completely over the top version would be the right decision to make. In the end, Headhunters is better than probably 80% of the movies out there, and is a good, solid, mostly fun little thriller. I just wish it would have stuck with the fun ride vibe all the way through.

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