The Headhunter’s Calling Is Formulaic Drivel
Hang Up When This Headhunter Calls.
Becoming an adult means learning to strike a balance between your home life and your career. With the advent of email, cell phones, and social media, the line between work and home grows blurrier every day. Director Mark Williams latest picture, The Headhunter’s Calling, tells the story of a corporate go-getter who puts career success ahead of spending time with his family. Although it’s a plot we’ve seen many times before, it’s also a part of life that more and more of us relate to. Williams’ direction and screenwriter, Bill Dubuque’s script, never quite gel. The result is a picture that doesn’t rise above the level of TV-movie drivel. While the movie’s heart is in the right place, The Headhunter’s Calling goes so broad with its storytelling that audiences will find it difficult to take the picture seriously.
The film tells the story of Dane Jensen (Gerard Butler), the quintessential workaholic absentee father. Dane is employed at a headhunting agency and we quickly find out he’ll pull out every dirty trick in the book to land a commission. His role is so generic that I’ll go meta and use a cliché saying to describe his cliché character (this movie doesn’t warrant enough brainpower to be inventive). If you looked up workaholic in the dictionary, Dane would show up. Everything about The Headhunter’s Calling feels like they took a stock movie script template and didn’t bother filling it in.
Dane’s the kind of guy who tells it like it is. How do we know Dane tells it like it is? He says so in the film’s first couple minutes. Since Dane is such a straight shooter, it’s no big deal when he tells his son Ryan (Max Jenkins), he’s getting fat. After launching several rocket-sized hints our way, the movie finally tells us that Ryan’s weight issues don’t stem from a love affair with Chipotle. Ryan is sick, potentially terminally ill. While the Jensen’s make changes to accommodate Ryan’s failing health, Dane remains focused on meeting his monthly sales targets. As Ryan’s condition deteriorates, — get ready for the Shyamalan style twist here — Dane begins questioning if he’s spent his life in pursuit of the wrong goals.
Dane is exactly the same kind of hyper-aggressive bro we’ve seen in these boiler room movies ad nauseum. Butler doesn’t do anything to differentiate himself from characters found within other films in the genre. He’s the type of guy that leans back in his swivel chair and speaks into a headset while pumping a stress ball in the palm of his hand. Dane also knocks back Red Bulls like Perrier and while in a doctor’s office, he takes a phone call in the middle of a literal life and death conversation. Serendipitously, Butler’s weak American accent actually works in service of his character. His vocal inflections are always a little too dialed up; he comes off as inappropriately aggro during mundane interactions. Dane’s kinetic vocals make sense in the context of a salesman pulling in 70 hour weeks. He speaks like an over-caffeinated, amphetamine-popping sales-shark.
Alfred Molina shows up as an unemployed engineer who trusts that Dane will snag him a job. Molina’s plot thread pops in and out of the movie like it’s playing a game of whack-a-mole. Molina, like everyone else in the film, doesn’t have much to do. Fortunately for us, the man is an old pro. He still packs some humanity into his itty-bitty part, which works to the film’s detriment. Molina’s ability to come off like an actualized human being makes all of the film’s cookie cutter characters feel even flatter.
Certain films are meant to be cathartic, they build towards opening a release valve. Others films are about experiencing a journey, they make you feel something along the way. The problem with The Headhunter’s Calling is that the entire film is constructed to service its climactic reveal. Everything that happens along the way feels artificially constructed in order to get you to a heart-warming revelation at the end. Sure, lots of screenwriters plot their scripts from the end and work backward — there is nothing wrong with knowing exactly where you are taking the audience before you begin. However, movies rarely feel this contrived. It’s one thing to go into a film knowing that it intends to break your heart, it’s another to have a film foreshadow its intentions so blatantly. A great movie leads you through a storm and then when you least expect it, presents you with a pot of gold. The Headhunter’s Calling asks its viewers to use the rainbow as its road-map while the pot of gold glimmers just on the horizon.
The Headhunter’s Calling wants to tell an inspiring story but its premise and execution are not nearly as profound as the movie thinks they are. When Dane finally has his life-altering epiphany, it happens in the corniest way imaginable. Dane’s family is more important than his career? Totes Obsv, as the kids are saying these days. The Headhunter’s Calling is boring, inoffensive, and mind-numbingly contrived. If this film had any conviction about its message, it would dare to point a finger back at the audience. After all, why should we expect Dane to slow down amidst the rat-race when many of us are hot on his heels?