The Headhunter's Calling review – Gerard Butler redemption story never convinces
1 / 5 stars
Butler plays a workaholic whose son’s cancer forces him to become a better man in this treacly drama
Nigel M Smith
“Reach deep inside and feel that small part of you that’s predatory, or there’s the door,” says Dane Jensen, played with bluster by Gerard Butler early in The Headhunter’s Calling. Dane is a ruthless Chicago-based corporate headhunter, and he’s training a new kid on the job. In closing, he tells the newbie to watch and learn from Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. He should really be talking to the film’s writer, Bill Dubuque (The Judge). The Headhunter’s Calling, the directorial debut of producer Mark Williams (Flawless), boasts none of that classic’s verve.
It starts out like most financial thrillers do, with our egomaniacal hero telling us in voiceover that he peddles “the American dream”. Dane is presented as the type of workaholic who starts his days by spiking his coffee with Red Bull. He’s got a hot housewife (Gretchen Mol) and three kids out in suburbia, but his heart’s really in the game of vanquishing his opponents at his recruitment company. When his boss (a snide and hammy Willem Dafoe) announces his retirement, Dane is forced to defend himself against his younger colleague (Alison Brie, looking bored in an underwritten role) to ensure he wins the promotion.
The Bleeder review - Liev Schreiber is a knockout as the schlub who inspired Rocky
This meandering drama about Chuck Wepner, the journeyman boxer who went 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali, proves there’s still lots of life left in the genre
On the home front, things don’t look promising. In bed with his wife, Elise, he tries something new to spice up their sex life, but she’s not having it. “I’m just not as sexual as you are,” she sighs. Evidently their marriage is in a rut. Elise is unhappy that Dane seems to value work over family. He argues that he’s just bringing home the bacon. So far, so rote.
Their marital woes are no match for what comes next. After noticing that their eldest son’s belly has inflated to abnormal proportions, the unhappy couple take him to the doctor. The boy is revealed to have leukemia - “the most common child cancer”, says the medic. The news sends Elise into a tailspin. Dane, so used to calling the shots, struggles to come to terms with the severity of it all.
From there, the battle of the sexes the film teased at, between Dane and his female headhunter rival, is narratively jettisoned in favour of sick-kid melodrama. The actors, particularly Mol, sell the development as well as they can, but it never plays as anything more than a naked ploy to give Butler’s character an arc.
The whole thing reeks of a vanity project for Butler (who also produced), affording him the chance to showboat as a Gordon Gekko type trying to redeem himself. He throws himself into the role, bellowing most of his lines as if he’s still King Leonidas, stuck in Sparta. The strain shows.
To label The Headhunter’s Calling a hybrid is to pay it too big a compliment. In trying to expose the greed of the headhunting business, and tell a sugary redemption story, it fails to convince at either. It’s run-of-the-mill, and crassly manipulative.