A suave recruitment executive who uses his position to steal valuable works of art finds himself in deep doo-doo—at one point literally—in Morten Tyldum’s expert adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s novel. “Headhunters” moves quickly enough to camouflage the holes in the plot, including one so large that, since it’s left unexplained, it actually undermines the big twist of the last act. But so long as it runs, the picture keeps you from noticing the absurdity, and as Hitchcock knew, that’s really all that matters in this kind of cinematic caper.
The protagonist is Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Buscemi), a fellow obsessed over his diminutive size, especially as it might affect his ability to keep his tall, glamorous wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund) happy. So he uses the information he gleans from interviews he conducts with candidates for important corporate positions to plan thefts of their artwork, gaining entrance to their empty flats and houses with the help of crooked security tech Ove (Eivind Sander) and then replacing each authentic masterpiece with a copy. He uses the proceeds to maintain a plush life for himself and his spouse, whose art gallery he’s happy to fund.
His carefully controlled life changes for the worse with the entrance of Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who could pass for Aaron Eckhart), an ultra-smooth electronics exec (and ex-army commando) whom he pretends to recruit for a job after he learns that the man possesses a long-lost painting by Rubens that could put him on easy street for good. But his theft of the picture puts him on the route to disaster. Before long he finds himself pursued by Greve, and the labyrinthine chase that follows involves a couple of murders, several other deaths, and twists involving both his wife and his mistress Lotte (Julie Olgaard).
“Headhunters” is modeled after Hitchcock wrong-man adventures, from “The 39 Steps” to “North by Northwest.” But it has a lot more violence, nudity and gore than those older films. And the premise on which the entire plot hinges—which presumes knowledge of what Roger’s been up to that, unless I missed something, is never explained—is less plausible than even the most outlandish notion Hitch ever depended upon.
Still, despite the gaps in logic the movie, which comes from some of the same producers responsible for the original versions of Stieg Larson’s “Millennium” trilogy, is cannily put together and easily holds your attention. (It’s also technically more proficient than the made-for-television Larsson films.) The acting helps, particularly from Hennie, who’s able to make a rather sleazy fellow sufficiently sympathetic that a viewer will actually root for him.
After it’s over, you may find yourself thinking that “Headhunters” doesn’t really add up. But you probably won’t care.