“Scandi crime” is the buzzword created to marginalize the thrillers that have emerged from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, although most of the attention has been focused on Sweden. Comparing the ludicrous Norweigan-German twist machine Headhunters to The Millennium Trilogy can only do it good: where Stieg Larsson’s behemoth is plodding, heavy and fairly endless, Morten Tyldem’s slick blockbuster gets it done in a fleet 90-plus minutes, and throws in dogicide as one of its better pitch black jokes. It’s no smarter than The Girl With the Whatever, but it takes itself about a sixteenth as seriously.
Sad-eyed Aksel Hannie plays Robert Brown, a diminutive corporate headhunter with a Gordon Gekko mullet whose flashy job still won’t cover his extravagant lifestyle. Supplicating his hotcha, Amazon-tall wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) with an architecturally fab home and endless gifts would drive him to bankruptcy, if he didn’t moonlight as an art thief. The plots gears don’t get rumbling until Robert runs afoul of Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of some show called Game of Thrones), a dashing ex-mercenary-turned-corporate-shark whose possessions include a Rubens that could solve our anti-hero’s financial woes.
Robert’s plan to rip Clas off goes about as well as you’d imagine, though few would predict that it would go so awry that Robert would wind up having to hide in a puddle of shit. The machinations dreamt up by Jo Nesbø’s novel led Tyldum’s film to be picked up for a Hollywood remake even before its homeland debut, and you shouldn’t necessarily hold that against it: There’s a long history of enjoyably nonsensical genre fodder, where viewers are invited to temporarily suspend logic and freely give themselves over to inanity. The key, though, is the right tone: a hard-to-pinpoint balance that requires the tongue being in the right position inside the cheek.
Headhunters’ middle section finds that balance, particularly as our meticulously coifed and maintained rich dude protagonist is dirtied up and sullied in reasonably inventive ways. Perhaps if the plotting was more than reasonably inventive it would atone for a third act that mistakenly assumes we’d like to feel for Robert as a person. The third act hinges on an emotional heft, and it’s not offensive that it ask us to care for a greedy prick, but rather that this represents a singular failure of imagination. Hollywood is notorious for slapping altered letdown endings onto their foreign remakes, but it’s as though the filmmaker beat them to the punch.