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Headhunters (2012)


Average Rating: 7.6/10
Reviews Counted: 93
Fresh: 86
Rotten: 7

Critics Consensus: Grisly, twisty, and darkly comic, Headhunters is an exhilaratingly oddball take on familiar thriller elements.

Average Rating: 7.4/10
Reviews Counted: 29
Fresh: 25
Rotten: 4

Critics Consensus: Grisly, twisty, and darkly comic, Headhunters is an exhilaratingly oddball take on familiar thriller elements.


Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 22,859


Movie Info

Headhunters stars the talented Aksel Hennie (Max Manus) as Roger, a charming scoundrel and Norway's most accomplished headhunter. Roger is living a life of luxury well beyond his means, and stealing art to subsidize his expensive lifestyle. When his beautiful gallery owner wife introduces him to a former mercenary in the possession of an extremely valuable painting, he decides to risk it all to get his hands on it, and in doing so discovers something which makes him a hunted man. Headhunters is … More

R (for bloody violence including some grisly images, strong sexual content and nudity)
Action & Adventure , Art House & International , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
In Theaters:
Aug 28, 2012
Box Office:
Magnolia Pictures - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Headhunters

All Critics (93) | Top Critics (29) | Fresh (86) | Rotten (7) | DVD (1)

"Headhunters" is an absurd amount of grisly fun, which is a good thing, since, looked at in any great detail, it probably doesn't hold up all that well.

Full Review… | June 28, 2012
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

By film's end, we're deep into Coen brothers territory, with an extra splash of Sam Raimi-level gore.

Full Review… | May 31, 2012
Miami Herald
Top Critic

"Headhunters" isn't a pretty film, and it doesn't always entirely make sense, but it races along like a man chased by killers.

Full Review… | May 24, 2012
Seattle Times
Top Critic

'Headhunters" is a frighteningly well-made thriller about an amoral art thief on the run.

Full Review… | May 24, 2012
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

Like a Teutonic techno band, this thriller is both skillfully familiar and chillingly strange.

Full Review… | May 18, 2012
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

"Headhunters" is a bit like an Ikea desk assembled with your nondominant arm -- sleek and attractive, but likely to fall to pieces if you look at it too hard.

Full Review… | May 18, 2012
Top Critic

One of those all-too-rare movies that puts you through the emotional ringer, playing on your worst fears and most passionate desires.

Full Review… | June 2, 2013
The Patriot Ledger

Headhunters is an intriguing action thriller that relies on both stunts and the acts of its diverse mains characters, played by well-cast main actors Aksel Hennie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, in order to tell its story.

Full Review… | January 15, 2013
We Got This Covered

This film is filled with suspense, violence, duplicity and emotion. The plot has a number of interesting twists. It is a very gritty thriller.

Full Review… | November 27, 2012
Laramie Movie Scope

Though not completely satisfying or believable, the absurd cat-and-mouse potboiler at least is always entertaining and biting doggy style.

Full Review… | November 23, 2012
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

[A]n insane thriller in which form easily trumps -- while still complementing -- the material's inherent madness.

Full Review… | October 13, 2012
Mark Reviews Movies

A hugely enjoyable, unpredictable thriller that never forgets to be fun first and foremost.

Full Review… | September 28, 2012

"Headhunters" is a rather strange film, but it's also a rather entertaining one.

Full Review… | September 14, 2012

Headhunters (Hodejegerne) is a roiling Norwegian mix of Hitchcock and Wile E. Coyote, with a generous dose of feces and blood. Headhunters is a mind game. And a blood sport.

Full Review… | June 14, 2012

... sort of like being mugged by a banshee: It's all very loud and exciting and after it's over you're left with a vague feeling of unease to go along with the lighter wallet.

Full Review… | June 8, 2012
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The film holds its twists too close to the chest, and there's little to chew on till the ambitiousness of its plotting is revealed late in the film.

Full Review… | June 1, 2012
Austin Chronicle

a twisted and twisting take on the potentially lethal outcomes of male ego and insecurity, which find their greatest embodiment in capitalism at its most aggressive

Full Review… | May 29, 2012
Q Network Film Desk

Sleek and relentless, it's a provocative, darkly comedic thriller.

Full Review… | May 25, 2012
SSG Syndicate

Suspenseful, wickedly funny and clever, Headhunters offers more bang for your buck than most modern crime thrillers.

Full Review… | May 25, 2012
NYC Movie Guru

The good guy in the Norwegian "Headhunters" looks like a bad guy, and the bad guy looks like a good guy. And that's just one of the ways this dazzling movie messes with us.

Full Review… | May 24, 2012
St. Paul Pioneer Press

HEADHUNTERS is an exhilarating thriller with great visual flare, top notch acting, and a story that will have you so involved that you'll possibly have no fingernails by the end of it!

Full Review… | May 24, 2012
Sin Magazine

Audience Reviews for Headhunters


Headhunters proves that it's not all about the big budget, it's the story that counts. This particular story is brought to us by Bestselling author Jo Nesbo, I just hope that the many future adaptations of her work (and there will be many) are as beautifully executed. The performances are also good but what makes Headhunters so good is its unpredictability. You may think you know what is going to happen but 20 minutes in and it all goes out the window, and the twists and turns don't let up until the end credits role down. It is everything a great thriller should be.

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer


In the aftermath of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, there has been an explosion of interest in Scandinavian thrillers and crime dramas. The popularity of Borgen, Wallander and The Killing (amongst others) has also led to a number of English-language adaptations, with Kenneth Branagh starring in the acclaimed remake of Wallander and David Fincher helming his own version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

As with all trends, however, it doesn't take long for the cutting-edge to become a cliché. The fact that Midsummer Murders is one of the most popular programmes in Denmark suggests that the popularity of Scandinavian crime stories lies more in a fascination with cultural differences than any inherent difference in quality. Words like 'bleak' and 'gritty' have become redundant descriptors for these stories, and for all their merits, their general pervasion leaves you crying out for something different. All of which brings us to Headhunters, a great little thriller which takes the gritty, stylish aesthetic of these stories and douses it with a lot of dark humour.

Purely from a technical standpoint, Headhunters is one of the most breathless and efficient thrillers in the post-Bourne era. Its first half hour in particular is frenetic, with its need to set up all the plot points trumped by its greater need to keep the story and action barrelling along at a break-neck pace. But unlike the many Bourne imitators, who have misinterpreted and misused Paul Greengrass' aesthetic, the film is not needlessly flashy in its shooting style. There is some hand-held stuff during the scenes in the woods, but otherwise there are plenty of tripods to go round.

Because of this breathlessness, Headhunters avoids one of the big traps of the crime thriller genre - namely the belief that a bleak, forbidding atmosphere can only be achieved by slow pacing. The film does slow down at certain points, allowing the more intimate moments to breathe and to increase the tension during the near-misses in the chase. But Tyldum Mortem is careful never to let these scenes drag or otherwise interfere with the fun. This steady hand works in the film's favour in the opposite way: it gives off such a level of confidence that we don't ever get the sense that it would all fall apart if it did slow down.

The film also boasts great cinematography, courtesy of John Andreas Andersen. The opening section is incredibly stylish, with a crisp, glossy feel akin to The Social Network or the thrillers of Michael Mann. As the various plot points develop, Anderson matches the darker comedy with harsher and nastier tones, turning the colour palette right down and lightening the blood in a realistic manner. What little special effects there are in the film are also effective thanks to Andersen's work; we know full well that a real dog wasn't killed in the film, but it looks so real that you do stop and wonder, if only for a second.

On top of any visual similarities, the plot of Headhunters knowingly tips its hat to a number of other thrillers. There is a close comparison to the Coen Brothers' debut Blood Simple; both have a ruthless efficiency and are characterised by a balance of dark humour and dramatic tension. Making the main character an art thief immediately calls to mind The Thomas Crown Affair, though the film is tonally closer to the John McTiernan remake than the original. The truck sequence is arguably an elaborate reference to Steven Spielberg's Duel, and the scenes in the hospital are highly reminiscent of The Fugitive.

It's perfectly possible to enjoy Headhunters as a well-oiled machine, an efficient genre exercise. It is ultimately a film concerned more with pacing than with substance or insight, with the need to keep things moving occasionally working against its attempts at emotional depth. But it also has a few ideas of its own which set it apart from many of the films it is referencing or taking after. As clichéd as it is to describe it in such a manner, it is more introspective and self-aware than many British or other English-language thrillers borne from similar material.

One of the film's main themes is reputation. Roger Brown is a man whose life is built around both his own personal reputation and the belief that reputation is the only thing that matters. He steals priceless works of art to fund his lifestyle and make his wife happy, ensuring that they can be seen at the right parties and own the house that everyone wants. His job involves making judgements on people based on others' opinions of them and concerns about the images of the companies he serves. His numerous misfortunes as the film goes on find him discovering that this frame of mind is deeply damaging: his desire for status is ultimately what leads to the affair and his life falling apart around him.

The central conflict between Roger and Clas Greve furthers this theme, and asks a supplementary question about the importance of empathy over ambition. In their final showdown in Ove's house, Clas appears to have the upper hand. He stands lean and elegant against the shrinking, pathetic Roger, and ridicules him for lacking the power and will to keep the things he wanted. Roger then trumps him with the reveal about the bullets, signifying his motives were the better ones. He chose the love of his wife over the satisfaction of the deal, and after hours of running, he finally defeats his opponent.

Like many thrillers, Headhunters plays with the idea of deceitful appearances. Clas starts off as a distinctive client of Roger's, smartly dressed, straight to the point and a worthy opponent at the dinner table. He then becomes a ruthless soldier and hunter, then a soldier at the centre of a murky corporate deal, and finally a thrill-seeking killer comprising all of the above. On paper it all sounds fanciful, but Tyldum's direction holds the character and conceit together. Every time you think you can't go with a plot point, he pulls back and concentrates on making Clas threatening, thereby ensuring that we take him seriously even if we don't entirely understand him.

As I said before, Headhunters is more concerned with pacing than with substance. It doesn't contain any great insights into the world of art crime, or make any point like Killing Them Softly about how crime and big business are essentially built on identical foundations. But in spite of this it is supremely entertaining, possessing not just a good amount of pure spectacle (e.g. the truck scene) but also a number of rounded, believable characters underscored by excellent levels of tension.

Being a dark comedy, our empathy for Roger comes as much from wanting him to succeed as it does from a degree of pity for what happens to him. Aksel Hennie has the same distressed, worldly-worn look that Steve Buscemi has in Fargo, and Tyldum truly puts his character through the mill, forcing him to lug bodies around, sit on poisonous spikes, shave his head in a stream and even hide in human faeces to evade Clas early in the chase. The dark humour also extends to the supporting characters, with Ove's 'shootouts' with his favourite hooker and the recurring appearance of the two fat policemen.

The secret of Headhunters' success, as both a black comedy and a tense thriller, is its constant capacity to surprise us. Tyldum is brilliant at taking a comedic moment and turning it into a source of great tension - we go from watching Roger sink slowly into the latrine to Clas staring down at the toilet roll through which (unbeknownst to him) Roger is breathing. He also perfects this in reverse: we see Roger being followed by what he thinks is Clas' car, and he careers off the road, only to find that it was a tractor all along.

Headhunters is a brilliant darkly comic thriller which breathes new life into a sub-genre which is threatened with becoming stale. While it has a few silly or potentially ludicrous moments, it embraces its pulpy origins and uses audience familiarity to make its surprises stand out all the more. Morten Tyldum directs beautifully, with the perfect balance of terror and humour coming through with the efforts of a great cast. Above all it's a supremely entertaining piece of cinema which gives the Coen Brothers a run for their money.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Not quite the Thomas Crown Affair, but definitely a well-made, fast-paced thriller.

Jason Robinson

Super Reviewer

These suspenseful, intrigue, twist and turn movies aren't really my cup of tea. This one included..even though I recognize that it was a well done film, contained some really good actors, and had some rather interesting scenes. I do have my exceptions to the rule (for example the Jason Bourne movies), but apparently this one didn't fit into that category...

Cynthia S.

Super Reviewer

Headhunters Quotes

Roger Brown:
Sounds like something from a movie.
– Submitted by Chris P (2 years ago)
Roger Brown:
We have a mark.
– Submitted by Chris P (2 years ago)

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