Cutthroat corporate competition turns literal -- and messy -- in director Morten Tyldum's Headhunters. A glossy, fast-paced, and darkly-comic thriller from Norway with enough clever twists to keep viewers constantly on their toes, Headhunters brings to mind the Coen brothers' Blood Simple for the way it combines noirish twists and betrayals with wry humor and occasionally shocking violence, while also featuring a surprisingly tender core that details the transformation of a calculated thief and businessman whose towering arrogance plunges him into an intense life-or-death struggle.
By day, Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) recruits high-level corporate job candidates; by night, he moonlights as an art thief in order to provide his beautiful wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) with a sprawling home and sparkling earrings. One night, while attending his wife's art-gallery opening, Roger meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a self-assured executive who has just moved to Norway after inheriting his grandmother's apartment and leaving his job at a competing Dutch tech firm. When Roger learns that Clas is currently in possession of Rubens' priceless painting "The Calydonian Boar Hunt," which his grandmother had managed to hide following a tragic affair with a German officer, the cunning larcenist sees an opportunity to pay off his debts and enjoy an early retirement. But in the midst of his greedy scheming, Roger has severely underestimated Clas, and failed to consider that he may have an ulterior motive for this revelation. Later, after getting his hands on the painting, the thief who thought he knew it all finds himself struggling to determine who he can really trust as everyone around him begins dying under suspicious circumstances.
Blasting out of the gate with a hyper-stylized title sequence and an urgent voiceover from Roger that details the essential rules of his nefarious trade, the film instantly draws us in by portraying its icy protagonist as a man hanging onto his career -- and relationship -- by a thread. Almost immediately, screenwriters Jo Nesbo (who also penned the novel Headhunters is based on), Ulf Ryberg and Lars Gudmestad go to work creating an air of tension and setting up story elements that will come back into play as Roger gradually realizes that despite his thorough planning and careful execution, he's failed to consider all the possible outcomes of his actions. And with a pointed glare that brings to mind a young Christopher Walken, Hennie brings self-centered Roger to life brilliantly. Even better is that when the script requires the character to evolve both intellectually and physically, he's just as convincing. All the while, the screenwriters are lobbing twists at a pace that propels the plot organically, and the classy, piano-and-strings score gives Headhunters the feel of pulpy, minor work from the Master of Suspense.
Given all this, it is little surprise that Summit Entertainment has snatched up the rights for an English-language remake of Headhunters. And perhaps if the director and screenwriters selected to head up that version stick close to the source material, it could be an entertaining diversion; after all, Headhunters is hardly high-art, even if classical paintings are central to the story. But considering Hollywood doesn't necessarily have the best track record with thriller remakes even with the original director at the helm (see George Sluizer's 1993 remake of The Vanishing or Ole Bornedal's 1998 remake of Nightwatch), why wait for a hastily assembled knockoff when the real deal is within reach, and well worth your time?