(2011) Thriller (Magnolia) Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnove Macody Lund, Julie Olgaard, Kyrre Haugen Sydness, Reidar Sorensen, Nils Jorgen Kaalstad, Joachim Rafaelsen, Gunnar Skramstad Johnsen, Lars Skramstad Johnsen, Signe Tynning, Eivind Sander. Directed by Morten Tyldum
There is a big difference between a lifestyle and a life. Having a lifestyle is something subject to what we can afford; having a life is inevitable, although sometimes we lose sight of the latter when chasing the former.
Roger Brown (Hennie) should know that. He works as a corporate headhunter, placing out of work executives into new jobs that befit their experience and price value. He works in Oslo, and is married to Diana (Lund), a statuesque Nordic blonde art gallery owner whom he plies with expensive jewelry and an amazing house that is well beyond his means.
Roger supplements his income in rather a clever way. Through his interviewing of CEOs he manages to discover the type of art they have at home, then he sets up the CEO for an interview. While the client is at the interview, he breaks into their homes by having a confederate at the security company (apparently one company supplies all of the former CEOs in Norway with alarm systems) disable their alarm system, at which time he walks in, removes the painting and replaces it with a forgery. It doesn’t have to be a great forgery, just one good enough to fool them for a week or two, casting doubt as to when the actual crime occurred. It’s pretty smart but as Brown ruefully says in the voiceover, doing this gig long enough ends in one of two results; either you find a piece of work valuable to retire on, or you get caught.
Roger figures he might have found the former. A new client, the former head of a Dutch telecommunications company named Clas Greve (Coster-Waldau) might have in his position a Rubens that had gone unseen since the Second World War. Roger’s partner, the genial Ove (Sander) has some misgivings – he’d much rather spend the time with his Russian prostitute – but Roger eventually bullies him into picking up a forgery for the piece.
But things go sideways quickly. Roger soon begins to suspect that Diana, who wants children that Roger is unwilling to give her, may be having an affair with Clas. And soon it becomes apparent that Clas has an agenda, one in which Roger may play a critical role. Bodies begin to pile up and Roger can trust no-one, not even his own wife and that’s a very bad place for an art thief to be.
Veteran Norwegian director Tyldum is given a great canvas to work with – a book by acclaimed Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbo – and makes the most of it. He takes a hero who has a lot of issues – Roger repeatedly tells us in the voice-over that he’s only 5’6″ and visually we see that Diana towers over him so there is definitely some compensation going on. His need to provide a lifestyle that everyone but Roger can see that Diana doesn’t particularly want or need illustrates a profound misunderstanding of women. In my experience, most women would give up a lifestyle in favor of a life with the man they love. They’re funny that way.
Tyldum got himself a fine cast to work with. Hennie is a major star in Norway although here in the United States he is little known. He imbues Roger with great intelligence, moving Da Queen to favor him with remarks like “he’s so smart!” which coming from her is not unlike the Medal of Honor. Roger is not one to fight so much of the film is spent with him in flight – which may be off-putting to Americans who tend to like their heroes to be men of action. I like it that Roger is physically unimposing, and I think Hennie is perfectly cast in the role, with eyes that project both intelligence and self-doubt.
Coster-Waldau makes a menacing villain, one who seems on the surface to be every inch the match and more for Roger. In fact, Clas is meant to be the anti-Roger – handsome, successful and possessed of nearly unlimited funds. Roger is supposed to be the underdog.
And yet he isn’t. In some ways, Hennie is too good at his job – despite the description of Clas making him out to be a genius in electronic surveillance gear, he comes off as an intellectual inferior to Roger and his menace comes more from his relentless pursuit. He’s supposed to be a CEO; making him a former special forces sort muddies the waters and stretches belief. Personally, I would have had Clas be an older man who is less physical; perhaps he sends out a different character played by Coster-Waldau to seduce Diana and pursue Roger.
However, despite my feelings about Clas I still think this is an excellent thriller, one which Hitchcock would have definitely approved of. It’s clever, well-written and contains some well-choreographed action scenes, including one where Roger attempts to escape from psychotic Clas in a farm vehicle with Clas’ attack dog dangling from the machinery. That’s not the kind of visual you get from a Hollywood film, and it’s one I’m sure we won’t be seeing when Summit (the makers of the Twilight series) remakes the film in a couple of years.
REASONS TO GO: Clever throughout, with decent twists that keep the audience just off-balance enough.
REASONS TO STAY: Greve is not a believable CEO; seems far too psychotic, even for a ruthless businessman.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some bloody violence and some images that are on the grisly side. The sexuality is pretty strong and there’s some brief nudity to go along with it.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is best known to American audiences for his appearances on the “Game of Thrones” and “New Amsterdam” TV shows; this is Lund’s first foray into acting after successful careers as a model and as a journalist.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/29/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100. The movie is getting outstanding reviews.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Thomas Crown Affair
JO NESBO LOVERS: The popular Norwegian crime author is best known for his Detective Harry Hole series. This is based on his first non-Hole book in the thriller genre.
FINAL RATING: 8/10
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