And lo and behold, Mark Wahlberg has just signed up for the US version, for which rights were snapped up soon after the film’s Norwegian release, after reportedly pleading to be allowed to play the part of the unscrupulous corporate headhunter with a sideline in art theft.
Headhunters is grippingly adapted from a best-seller by Jo Nesbo, Norway’s top crime writer with an international reputation, but minus Nesbo’s usual Scandinavian noir hero, detective Harry Hole. This is Roger Brown’s (played by Aksel Hennie) story: an unlikeable character who cold-bloodedly cheats on his gallery-owning trophy wife (Synnove Macody Lund) despite being desperate to keep her happy, and lives above his means in a glossy architect-designed Oslo mansion, clandestinely funded by the proceeds of regular thefts of paintings from the homes of his wealthy clients.
The film begins as if it’s his diary of his criminal modus operandi. But when Brown steals a valuable Rubens from Clas Grave (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones), a senior executive he is vetting for a job, newly arrived in Oslo and introduced to him by his wife at her gallery opening, it turns out to be a very bad move indeed, and the film takes another tack.
This time, his victim sets out to turn the tables. Grave, as well as being a top corporate player, it so happens is an ex-commando, a highly trained killing machine and an expert in tracking – and now he’s crazy for bloodthirsty revenge. And so the headhunter becomes the one whose head is hunted – literally. As he tries to escape his relentless pursuer by fleeing through the damp Norwegian backwoods, Brown subjects himself to every kind of hell and humiliation, starting to gain our sympathy for the underdog, as he is driven to greater and greater feats of ingenuity to throw his implacable avenger off his scent and survive – even including a Danny Boyle-style baptism of shit in a septic tank.
But Brown is an unreliable narrator and the plot has more twists and turns than your small intestine. So many, that to say more would be to risk a spoiler. The body count is high and, after a while, the sheer intensity of Brown’s tribulations and miraculous escapes – though they make it impossible to look away from the screen and keep you on the edge of your seat – starts to verge on the ridiculous. But despite those occasional moments of overkill, Headhunters is rollicking good entertainment that keeps you guessing right up to the end.
American remakes of successful foreign-language films don’t have a very good track record, so check out the original while you can. Yet I can’t wait to see Wahlberg, first in Manhattan and then up against a manhunt in the wild and remote American landscape that Headhunters seems made for. So let’s hope Headhunters, when transposed to the US, has the critical success of the remake of Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Daniel Craig, rather than the limp English-language failures of Holland’s The Vanishing and Japan’s Dark Water.