Running Time: 100 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Morten Tyldum
Language: Norwegian with English subtitles
Cast: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund, Julie R. Olgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Reidar Sorensen, Nils Jergen Kaalstad
This Article Is All Spoilers!
When I was a little boy, my auntie used to give me magazines her boss gave her. They were what were in those days called “Men’s Magazines” such as True and Argosy. They featured hunting and fishing and masculine stuff like that. And, VIP cartoons as well as first class fiction and historical articles. One of the featured writers was Adela Rogers St. John, the very macquette of the sob sister, the hard talking, tough acting newspaperwoman so popular in the cinema of the 1920s and ’30s. She was also a top screenwriter who could hold her own with the other top writers in Hollywood. She wrote about her father, Earl Rogers, the prototypical ace lawyer who could have gotten Jack the Ripper an acquittal. When Clarence Darrow was put on trial for jury subornation in LA he got Rogers to defend him (successfully). Rogers was also the model for Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason. Gardner was a regular contributor to these magazines too.
I was so taken with the stories and with the Perry Mason tv program that I began to buy and read the Gardner paperbacks. There was a second hand bookshop selling paperbacks at the corner of Harrison and Tremont Avenues. They cost a nickel or a dime. I was buying and reading several per week. I don’t know how long it took me before a certain pattern became evident to me, but I soon worked out the formula. Whoever was introduced into the novel on page 37 was the murderer. I rechecked the books I’d already read and those I had lined up for the future. Then I went on to the tv series and I noticed there was an equivalent on the timeline where the murderer was introduced. Of course this eliminated 95% of the reason to follow a Perry Mason story.
Traveling in India, one’s choices for literature is serendipitous, or at least they were 40 years ago. I came across a Penguin edition of The Father Brown Stories. Chesterton, C.K. Chesterton, is one of the most beloved writers, often mentioned as a favorite by writers. A revered figure. I remembered the Alec Guinness film and the warm humanism of the character, which was very attractive to me. Unfortunately reading Chesterton was very different. The guilty party in any Chesterton “mystery” is someone whose politics, religion or philosophy G. K. Chesterton disapproves of. The stark truism gnawing away at the magic spell of fiction is that the writer is god and can make anything happen for whatever reason they choose in an absolutely arbitrary manner.
Another book I stumbled on was The Dog It Was That Died by H. R. F. Keating, a very well respected mystery writer, most famous for his Inspector Ghote series about a Bombay detective. (A little irony here, I was in India when I read his book, but Keating had never been to India when he wrote his Ghote books.) Anyway, from what I remember, the main protagonist was being followed by the security service for some reason so he was always on his toes avoiding them. Someone may have been killed. Then, exactly midway in the book, some obnoxious character that has been annoying the protagonist is talking to him at a cocktail party where he mentions the protagonist’s time at the University of Leeds. It was one of those things where there was no way the guy could have known this. Unless, he was from the security service. Only the protagonist doesn’t realize this and the rest of the book is slogging through stuff until he realizes this. I don’t know if the audience for these types of books are that brain dead that they miss obvious things or if there is a game to just play along and “enjoy the ride”. One thing is that it doesn’t pay to be cleverer than the detective or whoever is going about to solve the mystery.
Just last week I was watching “House” and when the team goes through the victim’s house looking for clues to their illness, Dr. Chase holds up a neti pot and I figured, that’s it! Only it wasn’t it until the end when Chase mentions the strangely shaped teapot to House and, oh, we have a solution. Of course the medical solutions have grown more and more beside the point as the show has become more and more about personalities and the mental games between House and everybody else. Still, it’s difficult to imagine a doctor and cocksman like Chase not to have encountered more than his share of yoga and other alternative nutty women, so its just another “enjoy the ride” oversight. But I guess the point of “House,” the going along for the ride, is to see how rude and obnoxious House acts until the end in which he is right and oh so alone.
All of which brings me to the Norwegian film, HEADHUNTERS. The headhunter of the title, Roger Brown, is an executive placement specialist with a part time job as an art thief. He is played by Aksel Hennie, who looks a lot like Steve Buscemi’s younger, better-looking brother. Huge forehead, hooded bug eyes and protruding overbite. His beautiful statuesque blonde wife runs an art gallery, very much a profession du jour in today’s cinema, sort of like news anchor was some years ago. He mentions that he is 5′ 5″ and actively compensates for that. His wife, for example, is much taller than him. He surrounds himself with tons of fancy and expensive material things, which he really can’t afford.
One of Roger Brown’s, (an unlikely name for a Norwegian? after an American painter of blocky images?) art theft techniques is to ask a client questions about his home and family and then sends them away to a meeting while he robs their home with the help of his friend, Ove, who works on the inside of a home security company and manipulates the burglar alarms remotely. His wife, Diana, introduces him to Clas Greve, a Dane recently retired as CEO of Hote, a major Dutch GPS firm. Roger Googles him and finds he was once a member of an elite Danish Army unit specializing in hunting people and assassinations. Thus the plural – “Headhunters”. Moreover the Dane is in Oslo to take over his Grandmother’s apartment.
Later, his wife finds that in the apartment is a Rubens painting that had disappeared after it had been looted by the Germans in 1941. Apparently the grandmother had a German officer as a lover but he died in the war leaving the painting at the apartment. The painting might be worth a hundred million, presumably euros. Clas’s company was in the business of developing a gel with nano transmitters that could be used for tracking. Now how long does one have to go to the movies before smelling a set-up a mile away?
Usually, out of the noir past, it’s the big, beautiful blonde that’s the deadly temptation but Roger already has a big, beautiful blonde. Suddenly a hundred million dollar painting makes itself available when he’s been making e80,000 scores and the guy who has it is involved in nano tracking devices and was a professional assassin?
Professional criminals are above all cynics and when it’s too easy and outside the usual pattern of life an instinct takes over. But that’s real life. This is a movie. And the set up isn’t even the most egregious hole in the plot. Let me put it this way: If you suddenly win a huge lottery jackpot and just as suddenly the young and beautiful find you irresistibly attractive, it taint true, it’s a set up. Especially if you’re in a movie. And what is the ostensible connection between Roger and Clas? Clas is applying for the job as head of the Norwegian GPS company that is the main competitor of Hote, the company he just left. The same job the doofus who Roger stole the Munch from was applying for.
Now I really don’t consider what I’m doing as giving away spoilers. Its not as if no one had seen PSYCHO and I went around telling everyone “Janet Leigh dies in the first hour!” This is not stuff I learned at the end of the picture explaining what I had just seen; this was a real time revelation, which I have to expose because they are huge plot holes.
It’s Roger’s technique to leave a copy; it doesn’t have to be a good one, in place of the original. The schlub he rips off at the beginning is goaded into revealing he has a Munch worth a quarter of a million. I don’t remember the title or the medium, but Roger is able to download a print out a copy from the Internet just from the title. Unfortunately Munch did a lot of versions, in various media, of his works, using the same title. There are multiple versions of The Shout and The Vampire and Mother and Child ad infinitum. There’s no way he could have known which picture he needed to reproduce.
All right. Once stolen, he stashes the goods in a secret compartment in his car’s headliner. Which means he can never steal anything bigger than 18×24. He drives his car to a remote country cabin where he’s joined by his partner in crime; who then drives the painting to Gothenburg, Sweden. So. when he’s planning to steal the Rubens he orders Ove to pick up a repro of the Rubens. Now, here’s a painting unseen in 70 years but apparently there is a shop, in Gothenburg no doubt, where such things are available. He goes through with the robbery, with the hundred million Rubens leaning against the wall in a gutted apartment, which must have had workmen constantly coming and going. If I inherited a picture worth a hundred million with a strictly dodgy provenance, I might consider a safe deposit box, unless it was bait. While affecting his theft, Roger decides to call his wife but the phone starts ringing in the apartment, and he finds his wife’s phone in the artfully tussled bed of Clas. Ah, the plot thickens.
Roger calls Ove to come get the car to fence the loot in Gothenburg. He later finds him in the car, apparently dead. A poison syringe had been set up on the front seat. Poison meant for him. Roger dumps Ove’s body in the trunk, drives into the country and throws it into a lake. Then surprisingly Ove comes to life. Roger takes him out of the lake and brings him back to Ove’s house where Ove, doubled up in pain, insists on being taken to a hospital. Roger refuses and when he steps into the kitchen for some milk to counteract the poison he finds a silver Colt .45 automatic in the fridge. Ove, more than a little paranoid, had already said he kept a gun in every room. Roger returns to find Ove aiming a submachine gun at him. He fires but misses. Roger returns fire and blows Ove’s head off (without cocking the pistol, but that’s a common mistake.)
Roger takes Ove’s clothes and car, and drives out to the remote cabin, which turns out to be on the farm of a grouchy old farmer with a shotgun, sort of a stock figure. He’s not there very long before Clas shows up with a huge, white Canario dog (Roger is afraid of dogs and makes sure none the places he robs has one). Roger has left the Colt in the cabin when he’s caught outside by Clas. How did Clas find him? Must be them nano whachamacallits. Roger hides from him by going into the outhouse and submerging himself someplace where the sun don’t shine and GPS rays don’t penetrate.
He might have fooled Clas but not the dog, which attacks him in the barn. Roger gruesomely prevails somewhat the worse for wear, and, after finding the farmer dead and his shotgun empty, escapes in the tractor. He gets so paranoid by following headlights that he drives off the road and is taken to a hospital. From here on in, HEADHUNTERS becomes one of those talented amateur versus the professional killer(s) picture. The most famous might be THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) but there’s also CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), which preceded it. I don’t know how many have followed it, (RUN, 1991, etc.)
So, cut to the chase as they say in the movies. There are a lot of death defying incidents and well set up gags like a semi truck slamming into a police car at full speed and seeing the Volvo fly. I must admit, even knowing it’s all bullshit I was entertained. It was snappy action filmmaking. I was “along for the ride”. He thinks he’s been betrayed by his wife but there is a twist in the betrayal department. Roger miraculously survives the accident because he was in between two human airbags. One cop is so mutilated and destroyed that he changes identities with him and shaves his head because the “nano transmitter gel” is in his hair. He takes the cop’s uniform and gun and heads to what he thinks is a safe place but, yeah, Clas is still using a pen advertising his former company (Hote) and in this safe place he finds the same kind of pen. So it wasn’t his lying unfaithful wife that set him up but someone else, who is now trying to kill him.
Now the holes become one giant black hole wherein all logic has been sucked. This person was supposed to seduce Roger to put Clas in touch with Roger but as it developed he got to him through fucking his wife. So, 1. If Clas had already been the CEO of a leading GPS company, why did he need a whore to get him an introduction? Wouldn’t he just walk in the front door of the firm and ask him to recommend him for the job, which is what Roger did anyway? 2. Clas uses the fake Rubens as a lure. To lure Roger into stealing the picture. Why? What was he supposed to be lured into? Blackmail? 3. If his ultimate goal was to become CEO of the Norwegian GPS firm for their valuable technology because he is still secretly head of the Dutch GPS company, why does he purposely alienate the one man who can help him by fucking his wife? I’m sure she’s not the first tall, blonde model type he’s ever seen. He apparently wasn’t as focused as his Google files lead one to believe. 4. If he wanted to steal the Norwegian GPS technology why didn’t he just wait until it came out and steal it as they do in real life? Now Apple is suing Samsung, Microsoft is suing Google, Sun is suing Apple, Microsoft is suing E-Bay and on and on (these may not be accurate but you know what I mean). All of this technology, hundreds of patents are fought in court and not with car chases. 5. Because Roger is pissed off that Clas is screwing his wife he refuses to recommend him for the job. So Clas is trying to kill him. Why? It won’t get him the job or the recommendation. If its pique or revenge, well Clas seems to know, somehow, that Roger is an art thief. All he has to do to eliminate him is to give the Police or the tv reporter (don’t ask) the information and evidence that Roger is the notorious art thief they’ve all been looking for, and then he’s away for a good decade and a half. But why does he want to kill him?
Of course there would be no thrilling chase, or thrilling fights, or thrilling killings, if Clas didn’t set off to kill Roger. This is perfectly in light with the leitmotiv of our society, a culture built on thrills. Most of our cinema, and certainly the highest grossing, most popular films, are in the thriller genre. The best selling books are thrillers. Broadway and the theatre in general are dominated by thrillers such as The Phantom of the Opera and Spider-Man. Theme parks, a major part of the entertainment industry are filled with what are openly called thrill rides. So many of the new sports replacing the old team sports, are based on thrills. Of course pornography, graphic sexual displays, are saturated through society, with some ridiculous percentage of all Internet traffic involving porn downloads. And don’t let the politicians fool you; the reason people take drugs, the number one reason, is for thrills.
So I guess the reason Clas first lures Roger with a fake painting and then chases him trying to kill him is that it sets up the thrills of the motion picture. There was a film several years ago called THE STING (1973), which was about con men and a long con. Before each sequence there were titles that could be read like chapter headings. But they could also be read backwards, that is referring back to the previous sequence commenting not on the action as it related to the narrative of a con, but back to the structure as it related to the film, which was also, in its way, a long con. For example, the title The Set Up comes just before we see Newman and Redford set up the con they’re going to ensnare Robert Shaw into. But it also refers to back to the death of Newman and Redford’s mentor, which motivates them into undertaking the con. It’s the movie’s set up, inferring that movies are indeed a con too.
Ultimately everything in HEADHUNTERS is a con to get you in place for the thrilling chase. It’s the Chesterton thing again. The writer (or director) is God. People do stuff because he wants them to and its just tough shit if they break the laws of logic and nature. Part of the denouement is the placement of “blank” bullets, a gag I shouldn’t criticize because I’ve used it. But I at least showed my guy buying them. I mean where does one go to buy blank bullets for a .45 Colt Automatic on short notice in Oslo? But if you buy the rest of the crap, this is minor stuff.
I mean, in the ending of the film, Roger’s hair has been restored to its original length and his wife is showing what the kids today call a “baby bump”. So eight, maybe seven months have passed. But the action is Roger announcing to some businessmen that he has found the man to lead their company (its the Norwegian GPS company) and he presents the same doofus who’s Munch he’d stolen at the beginning of the picture. Has the GPS company been directionless all that time? Why did he wait so long to introduce this guy? Is he that stupid that he hasn’t figured out he has a fake Munch on his wall?
A lot of people who saw HEADHUNTERS liked it and were not upset by the huge logic hole in this thriller. Its already been bought as an English language remake reputedly for Mark Wahlberg. In some way this is logical because the lead role is an absolute shit, a real scumbag who steals art. How is this going to translate so the appropriate amount of sympathy accrues to the lead? This is always a Hollywood obsession probably because the film industry is run by a bunch of lawyers who horned in and worry about such things because it gives people with no imagination or taste a way to manipulate the product. With Marky Mark they have a way to make him a moral imbecile but sympathetic because its OK to be a criminal if you’re a Southie and believe in family and clan and neighborhood and blood and respect. Amen! On the other hand these things (foreign adaptations) almost never work and lose money but that’s all part of the long con.
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