The film is the highest-grossing Norwegian film of all time.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), Norway's most successful headhunter, supports his lavish lifestyle by stealing paintings from his clients; his partner, Ove (Eivind Sander), works at a surveillance company and deactivates security at the victims' homes, allowing Roger to swap the art for a counterfeit. Asked to dinner by his mistress, Lotte (Julie Ølgaard), Roger declines and ends their relationship. Roger's wife and art gallery owner, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), introduces him to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a former executive for GPS tech company HOTE, who wants to work for Pathfinder (whom Roger is recruiting for). Diana reveals that Clas has asked her authenticate a lost Rubens painting he inherited that is believed to be worth millions.
Roger takes Clas to lunch to discuss the job at Pathfinder, and soon learns Clas used to be a member of a special forces unit that specialized in tracking people. Despite his misgivings, Roger meets with Ove to work out details on stealing the painting. Roger manages to steal it from Clas' home, but he discovers Diana's cellphone beside Clas' bed. Later, after a seemingly successful meeting with Pathfinder, an upset Roger flippantly informs Clas that the company may be looking for someone else to fill the position.
The next morning, Roger finds Ove in his (Roger's) car, apparently dead from a poison syringe embedded in the car seat; when Roger dumps Ove in a lake, the water revives him as he didn't get a full dose of the poison. Driving Ove to his cabin, Roger puts him in bed and ignores his demands for medical attention, as he does not want the police involved; Ove pulls a gun in response, causing a shoot-out where Roger accidentally kills Ove. Finding Clas has followed him to Ove's cabin, Roger narrowly escapes after a scuffle. Roger switches his car for Ove's and throws his clothes in a lake, changing into his spare uniform and fleeing to a farm where Ove used to stay. Clas tails Roger to the farm with his dog and murders the farmer, but Roger evades them. Trying to escape on a tractor, Roger is attacked by Clas' dog, which he kills by impaling it on the tractor's forks. Roger, believing Clas is chasing him, drives erratically and falls from the tractor, only to find his pursuer is a stranger wanting to help.
Waking in a hospital, Roger learns the police think he is Ove, who arrest him for the farmer's murder when he tries to escape. Driving to the station, the officers pull over to block a truck reported stolen. Remembering that Clas developed a nanotechnology gel that is very difficult to remove, Roger realizes that he's being tracked through GPS gel rubbed in his hair by Diana, and Clas is driving the truck; despite Roger's protests, the officers ignore him, allowing Clas to ram the car off a cliff. Playing dead until Clas leaves the scene, Roger shaves his head and hides his hair on a body, then swaps clothes with a detective's disfigured body to fake his death.
Roger turns to Lotte for help, only to discover she has always worked for Clas, who is still a HOTE executive and trying to steal Pathfinder's secrets. Lotte admits that she put the GPS gel in Roger's hair, and that she suggested dinner so she could introduce him to Clas; since Roger ended their affair, Clas used a counterfeit Rubens painting to meet Roger through Diana. When Roger lets his guard down, Lotte attacks him with a knife, causing Roger to shoot and kill her in retaliation. Roger returns home and admits everything to Diana, who apologizes for her affair with Clas. The next morning, Roger goes to a morgue to retrieve his cut hair, while Diana contacts Clas to resume their affair.
While cleaning Ove's cabin of evidence, Roger is confronted by Clas, who was able to track the location transmitters in the cut hair. Clas gloats that Diana has returned to him, and tries to shoot Roger but fails. Roger fatally wounds Clas with Ove's gun, explaining Diana only resumed their affair so she could load Clas' gun with blanks. Ove's home security records Clas involved in a shootout, though Roger stays in a camera blind spot near Ove; the footage, combined with evidence doctored by Roger, suggests Ove and Clas were art thieves who killed the farmer, Lotte, then finally each other after a dispute, and the police ignore the minor inconsistencies because they want the case closed. Later, Roger and a visibly pregnant Diana are shown selling their house, and Roger returns to work.Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown
Synnøve Macody Lund as Diana Brown
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Clas Greve
Eivind Sander as Ove
Julie Ølgaard as Lotte
Production and remake
The Swedish production company Yellow Bird acquired the film rights to Jo Nesbø's 2008 novel Headhunters in 2009. It was the first of Nesbø's novels to be turned into a film. The film was shot in and around Oslo on a budget of 30 million NOK over 40 days.
A Hollywood remake of Headhunters is planned, with the British journalist and screenwriter Sacha Gervasi writing the screenplay. The rights to the English-language remake were sold to the American film studio Summit Entertainment in 2011 while the Norwegian film was still in production.
In an episode broadcast in 2013 MythBusters tested the feasibility of the film's car collision scenario (a person in the back seat of a car surviving a 50 mph T-boning by a truck due to cushioning by heavy persons either side), concluding it was not.
Tracks used in the movie include:"Weathervane" by Weathervane (writing name of Jimmy Gnecco and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy) - over the end credits
"Sleep Ferrari" published by Universal Publishing Production Music (no artist given)
"Come Arround" [sic] by Goran Obad and Henrik Skarm
The film was released in Norway on 26 August 2011 and was seen by 104,000 Norwegian moviegoers in its opening weekend, making it the second best opening weekend in Norwegian history, after Max Manus. It was by far the most-watched domestic film of the year, with 557,086 tickets sold at the cinema, and the second most-watched including foreign films, only beaten by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
Headhunters received very positive reviews. Based on 93 reviews, Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 92% and "Certified Fresh" rating with an average score of 7.6 out of 10. The consensus reads, "Grisly, twisty, and darkly comic, Headhunters is an exhilaratingly oddball take on familiar thriller elements." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 72 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews", based on reviews from 26 critics.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four, praising the film as "an argument for the kinds of thrillers I miss. It entertains with story elements, in which the scares evolve from human behavior." "Unlike too many thrillers that depend on stunts, special effects and the Queasy cam, this one devises a plot where it matters what happens. It's not all kinetic energy."
Headhunters was the first Norwegian film to be nominated for a BAFTA (in the category Best Film Not in the English Language). The film was also nominated for four Amanda Awards: People's Amanda (audience vote), Best Actor, Best Direction and Best Visual Effects, but not for Best Norwegian Film, leading to criticism of the Amanda jury.