HEADHUNTERS – Blu-ray review

Recently, Swedish author Stieg Larsson has received a lot of accolades for his bestselling three-part book series popularly known as the “Millennium” series. But, even before Larsson’s unstoppable posthumous fame, Jo Nesbø, a Norwegian author and musician, generated worldwide recognition for his Scandinavian crime thrillers. Nesbø’s books have sold over a million copies, and his work has been translated into over forty languages so far. Nesbø’s “The Snowman” will soon be adapted for the screen and directed by Martin Scorsese. The film in question here, “Headhunters” (2011), is based on Nesbø’s book by the same name. The film attracted a large number of moviegoers in Norway, and it became one of that country’s biggest hits.

The film revolves around Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie, “Max Manus”) who is a headhunter, working for a global recruiting firm, but also leads a double life as an art thief to support his lavish lifestyle and his beautiful wife, Diana Brown (Synnøve Macody Lund). Diana longs for a child in their married life, but Roger is still not ready, in spite of being married for seven years. Meanwhile, Diana opens a new art gallery in Oslo, and introduces Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to Roger. Greve is a former mercenary and elite soldier, who recently worked as a CEO at a technology firm. Diana reveals finding a valuable Rubens painting, which is now in Greve’s possession. Roger plans to steal the painting with the help of a rogue friend. Things go bad for Roger when Roger refuses to hire Greve for a position for which he is a perfect fit, considering his military background. Soon after, Greve comes hard at Roger, willing to destroy his life.

“Headhunters” is a unique entry in the crime-thriller genre that is made possible by the filmmakers’ attempt at creating suspenseful moments by utilizing its characters and the plot, without adding a substantial number of modern special effects. The film, for the most part, is a character-driven story, concentrating mainly on Roger Brown and how he finds a way out of a perilous situation. The moment we look at Roger’s face, we realize is a nervy character, always doubting the intentions of people around him and projecting himself as an anxious character at times. Obviously, the nature of his work as an art thief made him doubly aware of his surrounding, as well as made him smart when it comes to dealing with people. On the marital front, Roger is not ready to be a parent yet, and he suspects Diane is having an affair and would leave him soon. We don’t see him emotionally tied to his wife, and there is always a distance between the two. Roger’s personal strength in assessing any situation comes in handy when Greve comes after him. Roger’s extra sense provides him with much-needed survival instincts, enabling him to stay ahead of Greve in the deadly cat-and-mouse game. Roger’s character is mostly fully developed, but the script omits background on Roger’s transformation into an art thief. Nor does the script discuss any details of Roger’s past art thefts. On the other hand, the villain, Greve, has some interesting moments with Roger in the beginning, revealing his background, but when we see his true identity, Greve’s character displays tension and rawness in several scenes.

The story mainly takes places in a rural countryside setting, giving us a “middle-of-nowhere” feeling. The film is quiet, too, with short and concise dialogue, therefore making Roger’s character much more important in the realm of the story. We see minor characters in the countryside, but it is mostly Roger’s responses and movements that make this film an exhilarating ride. His untrusting nature gives a suspenseful tone to the film, since we clearly don’t know what is playing on his mind. The camera focuses on his face to capture these moments, and the film gradually builds tension by carving out long, chase sequences. After the chase starts, one can draw similarities to the Hollywood smash hit, “The Fugitive” (1994), only this time around the protagonist is not running to prove his innocence but to stay alive. By carefully crafting the action sequences, the filmmakers have been able to mix character development and action elements in right proportions, without having to employ many modern special-effects techniques.

It is rare to see a movie not falling prey to over usage of special effects, but, rather, banking on simple themes and realistic scenarios. Indeed, “Headhunters” reminds us how to inject thrills, chills, drama, and suspense, with a minimum budget, just as many 60’s movies did, something that is completely forgotten by many of today’s filmmakers.

Magnolia presents “Headhunters” in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded using an AVC codec. The 1080p transfer looks really crisp, presenting consistent detail and sharpness throughout. The Norwegian countryside looks breathtaking by revealing lustrous landscapes. There are a number of dark scenes, and the blacks are solid even in dim lighting conditions. The facial textures show good detail, along with warm and realistic skin tones. There is a slight softness in a few scenes that might be intentional. Finally, the color palette is devoid of bright colors, as we mostly see whites, blacks, and greys in the palette.

The 5.1 Norwegian DTS-HD Master Audio track is mainly driven by the front-channels. The movie is a subdued affair from an audio perspective, since the characters talk softly and in short dialogue. We rarely hear loud, thundering sounds in the movie’s first half. The dialogue is consistently clear and audible. However, as the chase begins, the rear channels are activated in the action sequences. Gunshots are loud and heavy and sound realistic, with balanced bass. In the countryside, the track realistically presents noises coming from neighboring trees.

The only extra is a “making-of” segment featuring interviews with the cast on the sets. The director and producer talk about their own version for the screen in adapting the book’s story. There is also a theatrical trailer of the film.

Parting Thoughts:
“Headhunters” is another nice offering from the Norwegian cinema, closely following the success of “Max Manus” (2008). The film is an intense and exciting ride, featuring well-done action sequences, good performances, and a fast paced narrative.  The interplay between the characters offers a lot of “what-is-going-to-happen-next” moments, and as a result the story remains interesting and gripping until the eventful climax. This movie comes highly recommended.