Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(Hodejegerne, Norway, 2011)

Aksel Hennie is Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter, a man who finds the perfect person for any upper-level job. He’s real good at it, but he’s a little guy married to a Norwegian Valkyrie easily a head taller than he is, and he feels compelled to provide her with the life-style he assumes she feels she is entitled to. His job isn’t enough, so he has a sideline of going into houses and stealing valuable art works and leaving behind copies that will fool the eye of all but an expert for a while. He has an accomplice at the burglar alarm company who deactivates the systems long enough for him to get quickly in and out, and who later drives the stuff to Sweden for fencing.

And even this is not getting him enough money. He’s behind on his gigantic house payment. Then he hears of a “lost” Reubens, worth possibly as high as a hundred million Norwegian Krone (about $17 million, at today’s rate). He goes in and gets it … and shortly after that, finds his accomplice dead in the front seat of his Mercedes, in his garage. Then things REALLY start to go wrong.

Here is an action movie that never insulted my intelligence. Do you know what that’s worth to me, these days? About a hundred Skyfalls, that’s what. On a budget the director describes (in a good “Making of” on the DVD) as about what Hollywood would spend on lunches, these people have taken a book and made a first-rate thriller. It kept surprising me, over and over, and these days, one surprise per twenty action movies is about the norm. It is quite violent at times, but never overdone … though there is one scene that gives new meaning to that old expression, “in deep shit.” And it was hilarious.

I get so blasted tired of fistfights where people whale away at each other with fists and blunt objects, then shake it off in five seconds and sprint to the next scene of action that is just not survivable by anything I’d recognize as human. Roger gets hurt here. He gets hurt BAD, and oh, man, does this little guy suffer.

Only once did I get a little dubious, and even that worked out okay for me. It concerns the famous Fall From a High Place. A police car with five people in it goes flying off a cliff and lands hard, a good ways below. And Roger survives. Well … even that is funny. Because our little guy is wedged between the two biggest, fattest identical twin cops in Norway. About all you can see of him is his head, poking out. You couldn’t have protected him better if you’d wrapped him in cut-out sections of Styrofoam, like we pack electronic equipment in. And still he’s hurt, very badly. And everyone else in the car … well, you’ve never seen so much blood, nor any people more certainly dead. And it is undeniably true that people have survived, every once in a great while, falls that you wouldn’t think they could. So even in showing this hackneyed old trope, they made it work for me, and it was even good for a very black laugh.

And the ending hung together. Every rabbit they pulled out of the hat had been set up earlier, when we weren’t paying attention. Even one of the funniest scenes in the movie, of a naked man and a naked woman having a shootout in an apartment … then the phone rings, and they pause the action. That pays off later. Plus many other things. Best time I’ve had at a thriller in a long time.

BTW: The reason I like “making of” extras is that sometimes there’s a little anecdote worth telling. Often it involves animals. I recall one about Day For Night, where they had to film a little kitten walking up to a saucer of milk, and lapping at it. That’s all. Well, the friggin’ little hairball just would not perform. He did everything else a cat could do with a saucer of milk but drink from it. Hours go by … and finally he goes up to the saucer and drinks. Wild, almost hysterical, applause from the fifty people who have been standing around all day, very expensively.

In this one we have a 160-pound pit bull (which breed is illegal in Norway; they to get a special permit to import him from the Russian police K-9 squad). Turns out he’s a pussycat except when he’s told to attack. Likes everybody, just a big old doofus who prefers sleeping to working. So they have him trained to go for a small ball they have pinned to Aksel’s shoulder when he is supposed to be “attacking” the man. He does it, grabs the ball, and Aksel starts shouting very loud, as if he’s being mauled, exactly like he is supposed to. And the dog is terrified! He starts backing away, pulling Aksel along with him. It’s all the man can do to hang on to the dog’s collar and make it look like he’s hurting. So they ended up with a better scene than they would have had if it had gone according to plan.