The San Francisco International Film Festival‘s 2012 lineup packs a punch, with an unusually strong selection of films. Headhunters, a gritty action-packed Swedish Norwegian crime thriller, doesn’t disappoint.

I didn’t expect to see the best film I’d seen this year on a foggy Monday San Francisco night with a small audience in San Francisco’s Kabuki Cinemas. I’d hoped for a few gems, but can’t stop thinking about the hilarious, relentless Swedish film that blew my mind, and left me even more excited about Nordic cinema.

Headhunters is that film. Based on Nordic Noir crime fiction master Jo Nesbo‘s eponymous novel. The film’s story arc unspools a chain of disastrous events that follow an insecure executive when his secret career as an art thief crosses the path of a psychotic pretty boy with a mercenary past, and an ambition that isn’t revealed until the film’s white-knuckle ending.

Any review your read about Headhunters will be too simple. The plot twists and turns are unexpected and complex, the graphic violence is squirm-inducing and never feels unnecessary – as in life accidents happen, and they happen a lot in Headhunters.

The cleverness of the film’s storytelling make you feel like nothing is gratuitous, the events can’t be predicted, you can’t outsmart the protagonist, and most astonishingly, the ending delivers a smart, gleeful satisfaction that surprises even the most jaded crime film fan.

Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters is a 300-page crime noir; a bestseller that tells the tale of Roger Brown. He’s big in business but short in stature, a summary of his lot in life. Brown keeps his hot leggy blonde wife in their expensive home and showered in diamonds by running a slick side game as a cat burglar – of valuable art.

The film departs from Nesbo’s book there, and meets up with it only on occasion for plot points. Though the film, like Nesbo’s book, begins as a moderately paced tale – but once the protagonist hits his first snag, the action and dark, dark humor gradually increase in tempo until you realize you’re seeing the best and craziest parts of a Nesbo novel larger than life.

Roger Brown is played pitch-perfectly by Aksel Hennie. And like much Nordic Noir, the casting is flawless, most especially in the role of gorgeous and unrelentingly evil Clas Greve (played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who also plays handsome, murderous Jamie Lannister on Game of Thrones). These two actors shoulder most of the film, and we never tire of them. Like this excellent film, there’s never a minute of disbelief and where other actors or directors would sacrifice the fourth wall for a trope, the viewer can’t second guess a second of each character’s decisions.

In a spoiler-free summary, Brown keeps wife Diana happy with his thieving ways – until he meets a man that fancies her, whom he discovers has a genuine Reubens print. Once the heist is set and scheduled, the handsome stranger interviews at Brown’s company and reveals his work as a mercenary. Brown suspects Diana’s infidelity with Greve, tries to follow through with the heist – and that’s where everything begins to go horribly wrong. After that it’s a breakneck ride that includes double-cross upon double-cross, car chases with a touch of Cohen Brothers humor, at least one Russian prostitute that’s good with a gun and much more.

Headhunters screens at SFIFF 2012 one more time on Wednesday, April 25 at 3PM.

Headhunters opens nationally in the US on April 27. The full schedule of showings is on the Headhunters page – in San Francisco at the Embarcadero Center Cinema starting on May 4.

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the author

Violet Blue ( is an award-winning author, columnist blogger, journalist and is regarded as the foremost expert in the field of sex and technology. Blue features at global conferences on the topics of sex, technology and privacy, and her appearances range from Oprah to Google Tech Talks at Google, Inc.

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