Despite the credibility that comes with foreign language in films that open in the United States, Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters, like the similarly Scandinavian Dragon Tattoo series comes from particularly generic action-thriller stock. And like the Dragon Tattoo films, the major differentiating point comes from how wildly unnecessarily graphic the work is, almost a parody of Hollywood’s well known love affair with violence. Take out the crushed heads, the grotesque bloodletting, and an extended sequence with feces, and the film wouldn’t lose much – in fact, it might have been a little better.
Based on a popular novel by Jo Nesbo, Headhunters follows the exploits of art thief Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), whose day job as a corporate headhunter works alternately as a cover for part of his massive wealth and as a way to seek out potential marks. Introduced to newly unemployed Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, now known to US audiences thanks to Game of Thrones) by his wife, in whom Roger finds both the perfect candidate for an open position as CEO and the owner of an extremely expensive piece of art. Unfortunately, Roger discovers something during the robbery that quickly leads to a chain of increasingly absurd events that switch the tone of the film from a slow burning mystery to an endless stream of chase sequences and gunfights.
At best, Headhunters is passable, passive entertainment. At worst, it’s often ugly, mean, and tonally inconsistent. The mixture of squirm-inducing violence and comedy would have played better if the former wasn’t so brutal or the latter wasn’t so infantile (note the aforementioned feces scene). Headhunters has received a significant marketing campaign in English-speaking countries despite its foreign origins, and if anything comes from it, it’s proof that mediocrity exists even in enlightened Europe.