Jackpot (Norwegian: Arme Riddere), 2011.
Written and Directed by Magnus Martens.
Starring Kyrre Hellum, Henrik Mestad, Mads Ousdal, Arthur Berning, Andreas Cappelen and Lena Kristin Ellingsen.
Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum) regains consciousness clutching a shotgun beneath the body of a dead prostitute and recounts his unlikely story to the investigating detective.
After the left-field success of Headhunters comes Jackpot, the latest work adapted from Jo Nesbo’s sticky red pen. Like Headhunters, Jackpot is a morbid tale of unpleasant men doing unpleasant things and director Magnus Martens crafts a suitably scabrous black comedy with wanton disregard for good taste.
Martens’ influences are writ large – the essential structure is lifted wholesale from The Usual Suspects – the story is told in flashback as down-on-his-luck factory foreman Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum) is interrogated by the brilliantly passive-aggressive Detective Solor (Henrik Mestard). After his ex-con employees make him an offer he can’t refuse, Oscar becomes embroiled in a football betting syndicate, somehow instantly winning 1.7 million kroner. But even before the celebrations have finished, the dimwitted gang turn on each other, and Oscar is quickly caught up in a brisk, bloody, study of cause and effect.
With broad strokes of Quentin Tarantino and the Coens (the snowy pine forests and sleepy townsfolk echo Fargo in particular), Jackpot is in no way original, yet Martens conjures a hugely enjoyable caper from his stock elements. Although gleefully puerile, this kind of black comedy is always hard to judge, and Martens know exactly when to probe the boundaries of bad taste – and when to smack a corpse about the head with a shovel. The film is unapologetically violent and frequently gory, but is always rooted in Oscar’s hapless squeamishness. Crucially, the comedic and thriller elements play to each other’s strengths, summoning a uniquely Nordic tone that swings from knife-edge tension to slapstick farce, albeit usually involving dismembered limbs.
Events become more and more convoluted, and as the double-crossers are double-crossed, Solor’s (and the viewer’s) incredulity is stretched to breaking point. Yet Oscar’s increasingly exasperated story seems to add up, mostly a case of being in the wrong place at the very worst time. Narrative contrivances are overcome by the film’s sheer cheek and the likeable rogues’ gallery of performances. The icy, desaturated surroundings, and their equally laconic inhabitants are the perfect deadpan to the splattery violence, from the tatty, neon-lit strip club to the ‘Evergreen’ Christmas tree factory that proves an unlikely means of body disposal.
With a clever, foul-mouthed script (if nothing else, I now know the Norsk word for “motherfucker”), Jackpot is tightly edited and doesn’t outstay its welcome, clocking in at a brisk 72 minutes. Since the Nordic invasion shows no sign of slowing, Martens’ tidy thriller is the perfect antidote to the excellent yet overwrought gloominess of The Killing or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Neither big nor clever, Jackpot is great fun.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★