'Headhunters' Review: Norwegian Bestseller Gets Sterling Film Treatment

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Stieg Larsson ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo") seemingly opened the floodgates of international appeal for Scandinavian mystery writers, first in print and now in films. The latest acclaimed author to hit the U.S. shores is Nordic writer Jo Nesbo, whose 2008 novel, "Headhunters," gets the film treatment by Morten Tyldum, opening in Los Angeles and New York Friday, April 27, before expanding to select cities.

Readers and moviegoers may have heard of Jo Nesbo's successful series of Harry Hole detective novels, which includes the bestselling "Snowman," set to be directed by Martin Scorsese.

In "Headhunters," we don't follow a detective but a Norwegian corporate recruiter, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie). In voiceover, Roger is frank with his shortcomings; he's short at only 168 cm (5.5 feet), but has a tall, beautiful wife, Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), whom he keeps in a lavish lifestyle. Roger then explains in numeric detail that he's deeply in debt and supplements his income with side work as an art thief.

Although very clever and precise in his stealing and fencing of art, Roger meets his match in Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Clas, a former mercenary who recently was a CEO of a Dutch GPS tech company, is everything Roger isn't: tall, handsome, rich, and in possession of a Rubens painting that he wants Diana, an art gallery owner, to assess.

It's easy for Roger to be envious. As he sets his sight on Clas and his very expensive painting, the cat and mouse games begin. Although it seems Roger is in the driver's seat for the heist, it's not long before the twists occur and Roger himself is literally becoming "headhunted."

Director Tyldum and screenwriters Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg do a fine job adapting Nesbo's novel, mixing art, technology, and inferiority complexes with gallows humor and, at times, especially gruesome violence and gore. This film could easily fall into the oeuvre of Quentin Tarantino's works, where you're laughing (often nervously) one minute and covering your eyes the next.

As antihero Roger, Aksel Hennie does well keeping the character's clever air of superiority in check. When events turn, viewers actually root for this former prig to come out on top. As Clas, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who some may recognize from HBO's "Game of Thrones" or the short-lived Fox television series "New Amsterdam," is equally strong as the handsome, ruthlessly cold former mercenary.

Director Tyldum explains in the film's production notes that these two Scandinavian actors were his first choices. With them, "…we now have the foundation to create a film with fistfuls of nerve."

"Fistfuls of nerve" is right. "Headhunters" is certainly one of those edge-of-your-seat, cat and mouse thrillers. The edgy gore factor won't be to everyone's taste, but for those looking for dark, suspenseful stories with loads of twists and fine acting (and gore), "Headhunters" is for you.

For other film reviews by Lori Huck, check out:

'The Raid: Redemption' Review: Blood, Mayhem, and Martial Arts

'Outrage' Review: Takeshi Kitano Orchestrates a Yakuza Bloodbath

'Goodbye First Love' Review: The Wonder and Heartbreak of Adolescent Amour

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