A bunch of scruffy guys – Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), Thor (Mads Ousdal), Billy (Arthur Berning)and Tresko (Andreas Cappelen) – who share a criminal past work together in a strange factory in the middle of nowhere producing plastic Christmas trees. But they are also gamblers. And like most gamblers, they never win anything, until now. They quartet actually win 1.739.361 Norwegian Kroner, but the winnings prove impossible to divide into four equal parts...
The ghost of early Guy Ritchie looms large over Magnus Marten’s Jackpot, a blackly funny, absurdist crime thriller where awful people concoct devious schemes that seem far beyond their intelligence.
The second film adapted from the work of best-selling Scandanavian author Jo Nesbø (Headhunters), Jackpot tracks a quartet of dim/mean ex-crims that have stumbled upon a football betting formula that could earn them 'honest’ millions. It’s a fun but very lean premise upon which to base a thriller that requires all-or-nothing buy-in from its audience.
Kicking off in very Tarantino-esque fashion with a XXX-store erupting in a blaze of gunfire for no apparent reason, the film then retraces the events that led to the shoot-out. The flashbacks are told from the perspective of the lone survivor, Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), who recounts to detective Solor (an imposing Henrik Mestad) how he came to be there, and secondly, how he emerged unscathed, from beneath a fat, dead stripper.
A jittery supervisor at a plastic Christmas tree factory staffed entirely by ex-crims (such overt quirkiness becomes de rigeur), Oscar goes in on the aforementioned wager with three of his fellow employees: edgy new guy Billy (Arthur Berning), strong/silent alpha-male Thor (Mads Ousdal) and dim bulb tag-along Dan (Andreas Cappelen).
When the scheme pays off, greed soon kicks in and the men’s worst traits take over. The trickle-down effects of the increasingly ruthless action each member undertakes to secure more than their fair share provide a good deal of the film’s enjoyment, so to spoil them here would be unfair (and, frankly, take far too long). Suffice to say, everything from nail-guns, nosy neighbours, tanning beds and pig farms all play a part.
Too much of the frantic plotting requires coincidence, which irks even more with a denouement that suggests all that took place was part of some greater plan. The same issue was also the undoing of the final 10 minutes of Headhunters, suggesting Nesbø is either overconfident on just how strong his plots are or is deliberately taking the piss out of the post-modern crime genre.
Either way, each film is impossible to dislike because both tell their stories at a cracking pace and feature nuanced performances. Marten is a no-nonsense writer/director who employs a deft touch. Those with gentle dispositions should be mindful that these characters are violent and stupid men, and the consequences of their actions are often depicted as a combination of the two.
Along with a certain trilogy from Swede Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbø’s body of work has led to a resurgence in Scandanavian crime stories overall, due to their cinematic nature. The Snowman, one of his series of nine books centred on private eye Harry Hole, will soon be adapted by Matthew Michael Carnahan (World War Z) for none other than Martin Scorsese