Jackpot

August 18, 2012
Screen shot 2012-09-02 at 11.24.40 AM

Like me, you may be wondering how many more ‘new Stieg Larssons’ are going to be thrown up by the vogue for Scandinavian crime fiction before the spotlight of fashion turns elsewhere. Perhaps South America is preparing a wave of depressed, alcoholic detectives. Maybe Kazakhstan has a new age crime fighter ready to go?

For the time being, Norway’s Jo Nesbø is looking pretty comfortable at the top of the pile of contemporary crime writers. Last year, his 2008 novel, Headhunters, was made into a stylish thriller, while Martin Scorsese has just announced he will be adapting Nesbø’s 2009 novel, The Redeemer.

Jackpot, which is enjoying a limited release in Australia, is based on a short story by Nesbø, directed by Magnus Martens. It is a black, crime comedy, with lots of blood and violence, assorted body parts, and the obligatory eccentric detective.

The story begins with a massacre at a sleazy strip club, somewhere off a highway, near the Swedish border. Cut to the police station, where we find Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum), explaining to Detective Solør (Henrik Mestad), why he happened to be lying on the floor under the body of a large, dead stripper, with a gun close at hand. It’s a long story, and will take up almost the entire film in a series of broken flash-backs.

We learn Oscar works at a factory that makes artificial Christmas trees, with a workforce of ex-criminals. He enters the football pools with three of these hoodlums, and they win the jackpot: 1,739,361 Norwegian Kroner (AUD $278,000). This sets off a disastrous chain of events, whereby the number of potential stakeholders begins to be whittled away.

Solør does not know how much of Oscar’s unlikely story is to be believed. Neither do we.

He gives Oscar the hard stare, makes pinging noises to indicate possible lies, explains the psychology of modern interrogation methods, and gives every indication of being vaguely deranged. Oscar tries to be a credible witness, although his story continues on its own roller-coaster ride, culminating in the big set piece at the strip club, with bloodied corpses lying among scattered video cases and blow-up sex dolls – the whole scene bathed in a dim, pink glow.

Jackpot is a slight film, but it’s entertaining and mercifully brief. The plot is full of twists, the characters engaging, although the ending is a little too predictable.

Martens has made a spoof on the contemporary crime film that often seems like a Quentin Tarantino feature set in provincial Norway. The criminals are not the fast-talking, wise-cracking variety, they are radically dumb, and in the case of Billy (Arthur Berning), psychopathic. The story holds us like a pulp thriller, and is forgotten just as quickly. For Jo Nesbø it is a very slight effort, with none of the complexities and surprises of the novels.

Having said that, I’d still recommend Jackpot over most of the big budget schlock that dominates today’s cinema. There is always a place for a sharp, humorous crime film, with or without the buckets of gore.

Quentin Tarantino lost this viewer when he decided to rewrite the events of the Second World War to make them into a bad splatter comedy. If a director has an irredeemable taste for pulp, it’s altogether preferable to leave the big themes alone and work on a human scale. Jackpot is a tale of greed, stupidity and blind fate – a lethal combination that can occur anywhere, any time.

Jackpot, Norway, rated MA 15+, 86 mins

Published by the Australian Financial Review, August 18, 2012