Headhuntersrecommended viewing

Sometimes it takes an implacable killing machine to bring a marriage together
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2011
Director: 
Morten Tyldum
Starring: 
Askel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund
The Setup: 
Guy with a sideline in art theft gets drawn into a mess bigger than he can deal with.
Discussion: 

There's a whole genre of European thrillers that are a twist a minute, but not stupid, and I have to say I'm just a big sucker for them. Red Lights, Tell No One, The Double Hour, that one with the hospital orderly (which was that one?) and others, they're all really fun and involving and well-made, and might fall apart with a little examination, but one has been shown such a good time one doesn't examine them. I walked out of this saying "So when's the American remake?" and my friend reminded me that these never get remade, perhaps because they're too twisty to be boiled down into a compelling trailer, or the characters are so shaded? Who can say, but Europe keeps making them, and I keep eating them up.

This movie from Finland begins with the five rules of art theft, including that it will take a while for a victim to even notice the poorest reproduction. We see our main character, Roger, get into houses, switch important art works for color copies, and get away cleanly. We see that he gleans details in his job as a corporate headhunter, like when the house will be empty and whether there's a dog or not. He works with his friend Ove, who is able to remotely disable security systems and then sell the artwork on the underground market.

We then learn that Roger is living beyond his means, with a beautiful blonde wife, Diana, who loves their expensive house and luxurious lifestyle, which means that Roger must continue racking up crimes. We hear an advisor telling him that he is close to insolvency, yet he still buys expensive earrings for his wife. Meanwhile, he also has a mistress, Lotte. She arranges for Roger to meet someone for dinner, and, because she has told someone about their affair, he coldly dumps her flat. The actor playing Roger looks like a genetic splice of Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi, with the same kind of shrewd, cold eyes. You know that this guy is a real snake.

Roger goes to his wife's gallery opening, when he is introduced to Clas Greve, lethal smoothie and the head of a competing company. Roger invites him to come interview to be the new CEO of his company. He learns that Clas is a real badass, with extensive military survival experience, and a sideline in developing GPS tracking technology, inventing tracking chips microscopically small and impossible to get off. We also find out that he is in possession of a Rubens painting stolen by the Germans during WWII, and worth a hundred million euros. Also present at the party is the lead investigator into the art crimes, who is curious how Roger could afford such expensive earrings on his salary. So for the first thirty minutes, you just watch as the movie sets up the elements of a trap that will start to snap shut for the rest of the movie. You know that Roger won't be able to resist trying to steal the Rubens, and you know that Clas is really not the person you want to make enemies of.

From here there are several unexpected twists, and though I won't give real spoilers, we're going to talk about some of the turns, so if you want to know nothing, you should just understand that this soon proves to be an insane, non-stop thriller in a good, smart way that doesn't insult your intelligence. You should also be warned that this thing gets pretty gory at times.

SPOILERS > > >
So things take a twist when Roger goes to steal the Rubens, and on his way out, sees some kids playing across the street, and thinks of his wife. They had a fight that morning because she wants kids, and Roger keeps putting the conversation off. He calls her--and is surprised to hear her phone ringing in the next room! From there we soon discover that the whole art theft thing is just a red herring that means almost nothing to the larger story. Things start exploding, and as we imagined, Clas turns out to be a badass assassin and unstoppable killing machine that you REALLY don't want to piss off.

What's interesting is that, over the course of the film, Roger, who is presented as a shark-like asshole at the beginning, juggling several woman (cold-dumping one) and putting off his wife's wish for children, gradually becomes the hero who we sympathize with and root for to get away clean. You notice as the film goes on that he is taking a lot of punishment, no, I mean a LOT of punishment, and undergoing humiliation after humiliation. This is necessary precisely because he was such a cold-blooded shark at the beginning, and we (the movie audience) need to see him go through so much in order for us to feel that he has paid for his sins and to start to want to see him not just triumph, but get away with all of his previous crimes.

It's a clever trick, and at first you think "Okay, Clas is essentially the good guy that Roger shouldn't mess with." But after a short bit he's such a smug, accomplished good guy, you start to just want to take him down. And after a while you realize that he is actually not a good guy at all. Toward the end, after Roger had endured some incredible humiliations, there is a scene that is absolutely crucial to our being able to turn our sympathies to Roger, and want him to succeed, and that is when he has a talk with his wife in which he discovers, to his surprise, that she really loves him, and actually doesn't really care about the luxurious house and all that stuff. Then he reveals a deep fear that if they had a child, she might love the child more than him, which is crucial, because up til now we thought he didn't want children because he wanted to be free to have multiple women and drop his wife when it pleased him. So one way to admire the movie is the expert way it manipulates and transforms audience sympathies. Once we're on Roger's side, the movie cleverly wraps things up, using little details it has been expertly dropping the whole time.
< < < SPOILERS END

So in the meantime, despite what I said above, it turns out that an American remake IS in the works for this movie. It'll be interesting to see how they handle it and if they are able to take audiences through the big turn of sympathies this movie does. I walked out of this movie having had an awesome time and having my expectations subverted and intelligently played with the entire time. If some of the plot strands don't tie together, I didn't notice them, and it entertained me enough that I didn't care to try to tear it down and piece them together. If you want to see a crazy intense, fun, involving and not-stupid thriller, here it is.

Should you watch it: 

You sure should, if you like action thrillers done really well.