Will Americans make Jo Nesbo the next Stieg Larsson?
Last year at the Berlin Film Festival, a little-known movie called "Snabba Cash" became an overnight sensation and a symbol of Hollywood's Scandinavian invasion. Harvey Weinstein bought the Swedish-language movie (about a twentysomething cab driver who leads a secret life as a coke-runner) for U.S. release; Zac Efron and Warner Bros. bought the movie's remake rights; and director Daniel Espinosa leveraged all that buzz into a gig directing a Ryan Reynolds-Denzel Washington movie.
This year, a Norwegian movie called "Headhunters" is headed down the same "Snabba" path -- even though it's not even finished.
Like that film, Morten Tyldum's thriller is about a double life: It concerns Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter who moonlights as an art thief to finance an extravagant lifestyle. Things get hairy, however, when he begins plotting a heist with a new Dutch accomplice.
When some early footage screened for industry players at the festival several days ago -- the film won't be done for a few months -- it drew a lot of attention from American movie quarters.
The film was picked up, sight unseen, by Magnolia, which will release it stateside this year. Several studios are hotly pursuing remake rights. (Incidentally, the movie's not to be confused with another Norwegian genre film that created a stir in the fall, the "Blair Witch"-like monster movie "The Troll Hunter.")
The buzz also prompted Tyldum to get signed by a powerbroker Hollywood management company, while starting a feeding frenzy among the town's major talent agencies, a frenzy somewhat reminiscent of the buzz over Noomi Rapace when her "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" began to hit.
"Headhunters" shares some other similarities with the "Tattoo" phenomenon: The Norwegian movie comes from the same production company that made the Swedish-language film and its two sequels. And it's based on the work of a bestselling Scandinavian novelist -- in this case, the Norwegian Jo Nesbo. (You can see an interview with Nesbo talking about his novel below.)
In fact, it's not a stretch to ask whether Nesbo will follow in the footsteps of "Tattoo" author Stieg Larsson. Like Larsson and his Millennium trilogy, Nesbo has written a popular series with a mystery-solving central character (the Harry Hole detective series, about a loose-cannon cop with some unconventional crime-solving tricks). And wouldn't you know it -- Hollywood is developing an English-language version of a Harry Hole book via a movie called "Snowman."
Nesbo may have even more resonance because, unlike the unfortunate instance of the late Larsson (who, like Nesbo, also began as a journalist), he's available to promote his books. Nesbo has written eight Hole novels so far, and they've sold 1.5 million copies in Norway. And the country only has, like, 5 million people.
All this comes as David Fincher readies his studio version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and the "Snabba" effect continues. Never underestimate the Scandinavians.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: A book jacket for the novel, for which the title is rendered as the singular "Headhunter." Credit: Ullstein Books