Headhunters and Laughing Policemen

Such is the speed with which Hollywood is keen to co-opt Scandinavian crime fiction, that even before the movie version of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters hit Australian cinemas, a US remake was in the works.

I’m curious what exactly the remake could do differently, given that Headhunters already feels so much like a mainstream American thriller.

By that I mean it is slick, fast paced and requires viewers to suspend their disbelief to an increasing degree as the plot unfolds.

I make no bones about my lack of knowledge of Scandinavian crime fiction and film, but it seems to me the only really Nordic qualities Headhunters has are some pretty creepy characters, the huge level of graphic violence and a lot of Ikea-like interior design.

Not that the film doesnlt have its merits.

Could you submerge yourself in a pit human shit or take another human life to escape someone trying to find and kill you? Those are just two of the situations faced by the main character in Headhunters, Roger Brown (Askel Hennie).

Brown is Norway’s most successful corporate headhunter. He’s got a thing about being short (five and a half feet) and a problem maintaining the lavish lifestyle expected by his taller, impossibly blonde trophy wife, Diana.

To make ends meet Brown moonlights as an art thief. He identifies clients who have valuable possessions and steals them. When he meets a man who owns a very valuable painting he sees his chance to make a lot of money and take the pressure off for a while.

The man in question, Greve (Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is almost as slick as he is. As it turns out he is also a hell of a lot more dangerous, an ex-special forces soldier with an excellent knowledge of high tech surveillance gadgets.

The first third of the film, which introduces us to Brown’s world and deftly depicts the high wire balancing act he has to do to maintain his lifestyle and appearances, is great.

From there, Brown’s orderly life gradually deteriorates and he is soon on the run for his life from Greve. It’s during these scenes that the film becomes both a bit far-fetched and a little predictable. And the ending is far too slick and contained.

Headhunters is part heist film, part corporate thriller and part dark satire of corporate culture. Doubtless it will not be the last film made of a Nesbo book.

Those wanting a different kind of remake of a Scandinavian crime book should check out The Laughing Policeman, which I saw on DVD a few weeks ago.

This film, made in 1973, is based on a book by the Swedish husband and wife crime-writing duo Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall, one of ten they wrote featuring the hard-boiled left wing Stockholm police detective Martin Block.

It was directed by Stuart Rosenburg, who did the honours on a number of my favourite early seventies American films, including WUSA (1972), Pocket Money (1973), and Cool Hand Luke (1969). Like those films, The Laughing Policeman combines a hard-boiled sensitivity with a discursive story telling style typical many of the films of that era.

In this instance, two San Francisco cops (played by Walter Matthau and Bruce Dern) get caught up in some very sleazy events when they have to piece together the events leading to the late night massacre of a commuter bus full of passengers, among the victims another cop.

There’s a great car chase towards the end and a wonderful turn by character actor Anthony Zebe. Don’t expect a straightforward ending that neatly wraps up all the plot lines. You won’t get it. That’s one of the reasons I liked this film so much. The Laughing Policeman is not the easiest film to find but it is available and well worth checking out.


6 Responses

  1. I paid $19 for a ticket to Headhunters and had to close my eyes so often during the gross out scenes, I reckon I saw closer to $12 worth. I agree with you that the first third was the best part and the ending way too slick.

    I did think Askel Hennie was well cast, coming across as a Norwegian version of Christopher Walken, with the high forehead, pale skin and dead eyes.

    But I agree with you that The Laughing Policeman is the superior film.

    • Angela,
      Yes, parts of it were pretty hardcore, at times completely unrealistically so. As for the price, $19 to go to the cinema, I think that’s why I watch so many DVDs.

  2. Dave Whish-Wilson

    The Laughing Policeman sounds interesting – I’ll have to check it out. I haven’t seen the other Rosenburg films you mention with the exception of Cool Hand Luke, so will do the same – I generally enjoy that 70’s discursive style you mention. Cheers for the heads-up.

    • Dave,
      I written about some of these pictures before on this site. For my money the early seventies was one of the best periods in US film making.The studio system was in crisis and it was prepared to try andything. The full impacts of the counter culture were also leeching into movies. I’m sure there’s other reasons, but whatever, the result was some great films and Rosenburg was up there as the director of many of them. The Laughing Policeman was up there with his other efforts, a hard boiled San Francisco crime film with so many plot lines and rough edges. I bought my copy quite cheaply on Ebay.
      Talk soon.

  3. You haven’t tempted me to see Headhunters but then I didn’t think much of the book – it too was slick and violent and, for me, boring. The book felt like an American thriller so it’s no surprise that the film does too and I can only assume the remake is so that the poor Americans don’t have to read subtitles.

    However I am now on an official hunt for The Laughing Policeman – I’m ultra curious as to how it will compare to the book which I’ve got lined up to read soon. Thanks as always for sending me off to interesting corners of the internet.

  4. Pingback: L’ispettore Martin ha teso la trappola (1973, Stuart Rosenberg) | The Savage Bunch

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