Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

THe hunt is on in this darkly comic thriller Cold blood: Aksel Hennie in Headhunters

Scandinavia has given birth to some of the most gripping and terrifying thrillers in recent years. Vampire coming-of-age story Let The Right One In sparked a Hollywood remake; so too did The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and its unremittingly bleak sequels.

Meanwhile, on the small screen, both Wallander and The Killing revitalised police dramas, adding grit to familiar stories of murder and betrayal.

Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbo took up the mantle from the late Stieg Larsson, regularly gracing bestseller lists with his ingenious page-turners.

And it is Nesbo's 2008 novel Headhunters that provides the diabolical inspiration for this edge-of-seat thriller, directed by Morten Tyldum.

The central character is Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), an emotionally cold, manipulative and unsympathetic corporate headhunter who steals from unsuspecting clients to fund his lavish lifestyle. His smile and charm are fake: he's vastly overdrawn on his bank accounts and he continually purloins to keep his head above the choppy waters of insolvency.

Unbeknown to his colleagues and his beautiful wife Diana (Synnove Macody Lund), Roger supplements his modest income as an art thief.

"I play for high stakes. If you don't gamble, you don't win," he tells us in voiceover.

He pilfers prized canvasses from clients while they are attending job interviews with the help of associate Ove Kjikerud (Eivind Sander), who works in an Oslo security company.

Thanks to his wife, Roger meets suave businessman Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is looking for a new position to match his obvious talents.

Clas has inherited a painting by Rubens called The Calydonian Boar Hunt, which would be worth millions on the black market. So Roger and Ove plan the theft that will set them up for life.

Headhunters simmers gently for the opening 30 minutes, establishing the characters and the marital tension between Roger and Diana, which leads to one major plot twist.

As soon as Roger steps inside Clas's apartment to take the painting, director Tyldum steadily cranks up the tension, building to a frenetic crescendo with a series of nerve-racking showdowns and chases.

Humour is black as night, including a disgusting sequence in an outhouse and some gruesome animal cruelty.

The machinations of the final act are absurd yet jaw-droppingly brilliant, and we suspend our disbelief because we want Roger to pull off his harebrained scheme, even if a few innocent people are caught in the crossfire.

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Wanderlust may be too powerful to resist. Planning a long holiday will be a pleasant diversion from work. You don't have to have fancy accommodation. You're willing to rough it for an adventure, but you do want to get good value for your money. Doing some research into the best places to stay and eat will pay off handsomely. Take along a friend who is free spirited and eager to explore unfamiliar vistas. The two of you will make great travelling companions.More