THE COLD-BLOODED, smartest-guy-in-the-room predator is a staple of the modern thriller.
But rarely has one been unmasked so thoroughly and delightfully as in the Norwegian movie "Headhunters," a sensation in Europe, a hit at the Toronto International Film Festival, and already being remade in Hollywood.
Now's your chance to see it in its original form, starring Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown, identified in the opening credits as a fellow who makes his big money in the art-forgery racket.
By day, Brown is a corporate headhunter, and the movie wins you over right away with a cleverly written scene that shows him playing mind games with a job candidate — funny in and of itself, but brilliant for the way it gives meaning to subsequent scenes.
The prologue ends with Roger on a smug, master-of-the-universe high, crowing about his powers of manipulation, even taking pleasure in the casually cruel way he dismisses the dream of his gorgeous wife (Synnove Macody Lund) to have children.
A family? Too much of a distraction for the selfish Roger, who likes being the center of attention, likes being the alpha.
And he is, until one day he meets Clas ("Game of Thrones"' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) the sought-after former head of a German technology firm. Roger, who speaks to us in voice-over, is candid about his height issues (he's 5-feet-6), and "Headhunters" makes an amusing visual joke of the contrast between Roger and Clas, the tall, strong-chinned Aryan, who's wealthier, better-looking, and perhaps a match for Roger in the mind-game arena.
The two soon are engaged in a high-stakes war of wits, the details of which are best left to "Headhunters." It's enough to say that what starts as one of Roger's scams leads to double-crosses, triple-crosses, right-crosses, and a rolling narrative full of head-spinning twists.
Director Morten Tyldum finds the right, tricky tone: As the movie grows increasingly violent, it manages to be both hair-raising and darkly funny. His actors are first-rate, and the movie is slickly photographed in cool hues that match the sociopathic gamesmanship of its leads.
Roger, however, learns he isn't the sociopath he thinks he is: When confronted with the real thing, he finds he might have a soul after all.
The forger who finds his own life is a forgery?
I wasn't really buying it, but no matter: "Headhunters" is a trip, and I think the odds are small that the U.S. version will be an improvement. n
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at www.philly.com/keepitreel.