Friday, April 27, 2012

Size matters! So does reputation. Morten Tyldum's HEADHUNTERS shows us why.

What a week it has been for must-see movies: Three of 'em already -- and TrustMovies has seen only nine of the twenty-one films opening theatrically in New York City in the past seven days. (How does any critic possibly keep up with this flow? At the end of the year, when those "Best Lists" arrive, you just know that nobody's seen 'em all.) The third of the current week's must-sees (Bernie and Safe are the other two) is also, like Safe, part of the thriller genre: HEADHUNTERS (Hodejegerne in the original Norwegian), directed by Morten Tyldum (shown below) and written by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg (from the novel by Jo Nesbø).

Our "hero" Roger (Aksel Hennie, shown below, at work) -- and little twat that he is, we still identify with him -- is only a slightly undersized fellow who nonetheless makes up for this with his own brand of Napoleon complex. One of the titular headhunters, he's a top pro in his field and would be by any normal standard considered quite the success. But it is not enough for someone who imagines himself "short," and so he makes up for this by stealing very valuable art and selling it on the black market. How he does this, using his day job as part of the scheme, makes for much of the fun of the opening section of the film.

From then on, however, as Roger gets in just a little too deeply and inextricably, the tension mounts until it is, at times, well nigh unbearable. Yet -- and this is part of the delight of this bleakly funny movie -- the humor is never far away, no matter how dark and disgusting things get (we won't go into what our hero is covered with, below). And, my, these "things" go places that few movies have been. Particularly films that are this funny.

Roger's wife, a statuesque blond played by Synnøve Macody Lund (below, left) has opened  an art gallery and one of her clients is a gorgeous and -- drat it! -- tall hunk named Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, below, center, and yes, from HBO's Game of Thrones) who not only might be looking for a newly-on-the-market, high-level job (that Roger could place him in) but also may have a priceless, stolen-by-the-Nazis piece of art in his possession. How can our hero resist this particular combo?

Of course he can't; let the games begin. So cleverly has the scenario been set up, and even more cleverly does it play out, that comparisons with Hitchcock are not amiss. Hitch loved to put his heroes through the wringer, but even he would be shocked at what our Roger has gone through by the time these hundred minutes have ended. (Hitch would also, I suspect, be grinning.)

This include a oddly clingy mistress (Julie R. Ølgaard, below),

a partner-in-crime (Eivind Sander, below) whose sexual tastes run to filming his Russian-prostitute girlfriend with a home camera,

and several others, the most biazrre of which may be the very heavy-set twin policemen from the provinces who end up saving our hero's life in a manner you would not want to try on your own nearby highway. Oh, and did I mention perhaps the most horribly inflicted haircut in the history of movies?

Almost, but not quite, too smart for its own good, the film still works beautifully precisely because it is so smart. Headhunters thrills, amuses and invigorates. That's more than enough, in my book, to make it a must-see. The movie, from Magnolia Pictures, opens today in New York City at the AMC Empire 25, the Beekman and Landmark's Sunshine Cinema, and in Los Angeles at The Landmark.  Click here for other playdates, with cities and theaters, across the country in the weeks to come

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