This doesn’t happen very often – that I have read the book before I’ve watched the movie – and after my experience with Headhunters I am convinced this is a good thing.
I am part of the flock that does not demand fidelity between a book and the movie that springs from it. They are separate creative endeavours and if audiences are to enjoy them for themselves, genuine effort needs to be made to separate the two, either by time, or by execution and interpretation.
Jo Nesbø is considered one of the leading lights in the Scandinavian crime fiction renaissance that is taking the world by storm. Headhunters is the first stand-alone book by the writer (it doesn’t feature the character of Harry Hole who is common to his other books). It is also the first book he has allowed to be filmed, and I can see why: while I was reading it I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was actually a stealth screenplay.
The setup is simple, yet intriguing. Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a highly-regarded corporate headhunter who has an impressive home, a beautiful wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), and a chip on his shoulder regarding his physical height (or lack thereof). So the five-foot-six man who is constantly afraid that his much taller wife will leave him for a man more deserving of her pulchritude, resorts to a side business of art theft to keep himself financially solvent, and capable of buying Diana expensive gifts.
One evening, at the opening of Diana’s new art gallery Roger meets Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and while he is initially interested in Mr. Greve as a potential hire for a company seeking a new employee, his interest takes a different direction when he learns that Greve might be in possession of a lost piece of art that could fetch enough money on the black market to solve all of Brown’s financial woes permanently.
If only things were so easy.
The movie is largely faithful to the book and the changes are more cosmetic, or caused by relative difficulty in filming, than they are for making the movie version more cinematic in any way.
I have to say that I did not find the character of Roger Brown that repulsive in the book but the way he is played by Mr. Hennie I was not a fan. The movie looks good, Ms. Lund is very easy on the eyes, Mr. Coster-Waldau plays his small part efficiently, and the whole movie plays like a precisely manufactured machine. But it also felt like there was something missing.
Watching Headhunters felt like getting a glimpse into Mr. Nesbø’s mind as he gleefully ran through the possibilities for his character and how he would demonstrate his own cleverness by building a twisted maze the character of Roger Brown has to crawl out of.
This didn’t bother me while I was reading the book but it sure sucked the fun out of the movie for me.