Headhunters Shows Gory Side of Today’s Workforce

I started out on Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series, which is quite dark, but last year after returning from Germany, I thought I would give his stand-alone novel Headhunters a try. It was a bit of a challenge going from Harry Hole’s nihilistic worldview to the supercilious one of Roger Brown, but once he scolds a potential candidate for his headhunting agency with this, I was hooked:

“My God, man, you applied for this job! What you should have done was to set up a straw man to tip us off and then pretend you knew nothing about it when we contacted you. A top man has to be headhunted, not arrive ready-killed and all carved up.”

This just reminds me so much of the economic climate we’re in today and how desperation is the kiss of death when you’re job hunting.

The last place where I did in-house work as an editor, the company first made me sign up with a temp agency—that was how they handled their payroll. (I later found out that some of the company’s “temps” had been there for years—one for up to seven years, I believe—and still were not considered full-time employees.) While I sat at a computer entering my employment information and so on, I heard the voices of desperate people, who were put on speakerphone, begging and pleading for jobs, and this is what Headhunters reminded me of—the lengths that people will go to in order to secure jobs.

Headhunters takes this issue and warps it deliciously into a Neanderthal kill-or-be-killed game. Roger Brown is an agent at a top headhunting firm and is looking to fill a position at a defense weapons company, which could be quite lucrative for him. However, the agency does not pay him enough to support his lifestyle and that of his beautiful wife, who’s recently started an art gallery on his dime, or krone, I should say. To subsidize their way of life, Brown is part of an elaborate art heist scheme, and he uses his job to find worthy pieces.

He discovers Clas Greve at his wife’s gallery opening and starts salivating. Here’s the man who would be a worthy candidate for the company he’s currently headhunting for. The man also has an original Rubens piece that was believed to be lost in World War II. Suddenly Brown is desperate to recruit Greve—for both the commission and the artwork—until he finds out that his wife is sleeping with the man. That’s when all hell breaks loose.

After reading the book, I found out that a Norwegian movie version had been made of the book, but it hadn’t been put out yet in the United States so I had to patiently wait.

A week ago it was finally in New York theaters, and I was able to see it with my friend Allie. Enough time had elapsed between reading the book and seeing the movie that I had forgotten some of the pivotal plot twists and truly was surprised when they occurred onscreen. All in all, the Norwegian version of Headhunters has stayed amazingly close to the source material of the book, including keeping in the truly cringe-worthy moments of the story. I’m afraid the upcoming U.S. version of the movie might have to avoid that, but time will tell.


Another thing I like about the Norwegian version of the movie is how real the people look—except for Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who Allie says looks like a male model. For the most part, the movie’s characters remind me of people that I see on the sidewalk, in coffee shops, while shopping; they’re not from that airbrushed fairyland of Hollywood. I hope that when the U.S. version of Headhunters is made, they keep the people real to reflect American society and the current economy. The story really isn’t too far from the truth about what people will do to get a job or support themselves.

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