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May 12, 2012

The words “pulse-pounding thrill ride” get thrown around a lot in reviews. I try to stay honest here, so I checked my jugular a few times during Hodejegerne — released in English as Headhunters — to find that it was, indeed, pounding. And yet it manages to wrap this action around a real, human character. There’s a lot going on — much of it unsuitable for the faint of heart — but director Morten Tyldum never loses sight of the central point of an action movie: telling a gripping story.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is five and a half feet tall, which means he feels a strong need to compensate. He has a five-million-dollar house, an eager mistress, Lotte (Julie Ølgaard), and a tall, beautiful wife, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), to whom he explains his fortune as an inheritance. In reality, he’s an art thief; his accomplice, Ove (Eivind Sander), turns off the alarms in his victims’ houses and transports the paintings to a fence in Gothenburg, across the Swedish border. He identifies his victims through his cover job as a high-level corporate headhunter, which also lets him determine when they will be away from home at an interview.

But art theft and corporate recruiting don’t pay as well as you might expect; Roger keeps less than a third of a forty-thousand-dollar painting, which doesn’t go very far when you’re buying sixteen-thousand-dollar earrings to keep your wife happy. And yet he keeps plugging away, keeping his secrets until that day when either he hits a big enough score to retire on, or he gets caught.

And either one of these could come in the form of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who would be perfect for the CEO position of a GPS-technology company Roger is trying to fill. Clas was the CEO of their Dutch rival until it was bought by an American company, at which time he came to Oslo to redecorate his late grandmother’s apartment. He met Roger’s wife while looking for someone to examine a lost Reubens that could be worth well over fifteen million dollars. A score like that could be the end of Roger’s money problems forever.

Clas is, of course, everything that Roger is not: he’s tall, ruggedly handsome, actually wealthy, and not at all the sort of person I’d want my wife getting too chummy with either. Oh, and he’s a former special forces military hero with a focus in tracking people down. That could be a problem, too.

Action movie heroes tend to be either ultimate badasses (every Jason Statham movie ever) or scared, lucky kids (Shia LaBeouf in the Transformers series), and either end is about two inches deep. Jo Nesbø’s novel presents us with a wonderfully fleshed-out character who finds himself wading into a mess that’s clearly over his head, and we can actually understand how and why he ended up there. Hennie brings him to life — an action lead who has real emotions and not just facial expressions.

If you like action crime thrillers, this is one you owe it to yourself to see. That is, if you can find a theater near you showing it. If not, well, they’ve already optioned the American remake. I wouldn’t hold my breath on it measuring up, though.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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