2011’s Headhunters is a refreshing blast of blackly comic Norwegian fun that mixes laughs and blood-soaked shenanigans into a deliriously enjoyable cinematic cocktail, and it rightfully exposed Jo Nesbø‘s fiction (on which it was based) to a wider audience. Remake rights were snapped up by Mark Wahlberg, Nesbø’s other books received attention from Hollywood (including one that attracted Martin Scorsese’s eye) and it even made our 2011 Best Foreign Films of the Year list.
But it wasn’t the only movie that year to be based on the best-selling Norwegian author’s work. Jackpot features a lot of the same ingredients — dark comedy, graphic violence, inept criminals — but those similarities start and end at the surface.
Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) is the only survivor of a shootout that left eight people dead. The police are actually working the carnage-strewn crime scene when Oscar arises from beneath a corpse surprised both that he’s alive and that the cops are staring at him. Oh, he’s also a bit unsure as to why there’s a shotgun in his hands. Detective Solør (Henrik Mestad) immediately takes him in and begins the interrogation, but Oscar’s explanation as to the events leading up to the massacre repeatedly tests the veteran detective’s bullshit detector. Even so, Oscar swears it all started with a bet on a soccer match.
The factory that Oscar manages is known for two things. They manufacture small, ugly Christmas trees from recycled, mulched materials, and they have a habit of hiring ex-convicts as a way to give the men a second chance at life. One of those men, Thor (Mads Ousdal) was a childhood friend of Oscar’s, so it’s understood that when Thor and two of his fellow delinquents discover a guaranteed method of picking match winners they’ll drag Oscar into it as well. They win, and they win big, but that promised payday becomes a temptation that some of the men find it difficult to imagine splitting four ways. The math involved in trying to figure out each person’s share is equally frustrating for them.
Director Magnus Martens, who also scripted from Nesbø’s short story, moves the film forward by alternating between Oscar’s interrogation and flashbacks bringing his story to life. Like a less refined The Usual Suspects, the film keeps the pressure on Oscar’s story with the detective constantly questioning its veracity. The problem is that Oscar is no Verbal Kint. He’s far from engaging in his own right and instead is little more than a passive observer along for the bumpy ride. It’s by design of course, but the result is a lead character whose details and behaviors fail to connect in any way with viewers.
The supporting characters are no better off as they’re as one-note as they can be while still having individual names. Thor is oafish, fellow ex-con Billy (Arthur Berning) is psychotic, Solør is driven and sharp(ish) and a couple other minor characters who end up playing somewhat relevant roles are equally one-dimensional at best. They’re “characters” without depth or humanity, and while that makes the inevitable violence less troublesome, it also makes it less interesting. Characters die left and right, and none of it really matters.
Part of the reason for that is the film’s strong comedic bent that values laughs over thrills or concern, and on that note at least it’s somewhat more successful. The Guy Ritchie-esque criminal antics on display are fairly commonplace these days, but they still work to create darkly comedic situations often involving copious amounts of blood and body parts. One bit involving a call from the National Lottery at an inopportune time is quite funny, but those big laughs are too infrequent to call this a flat-out comedy. That said, the comedy is often so broad and inconsequentially casual that it’s impossible to call it anything but.
Jackpot is slight fun that should do in a inch for viewers looking to quench their Norwegian crime cinema fix, but it probably won’t win Nesbø or Martens any new fans.
The Upside: Funny; bloody
The Downside: Comedy is too frequently broad and loose; protagonist is an unfulfilling; one-dimensional characters
On the Side: Tomas Alfredson is attached to direct an adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s novel “The Snowman.”
Jackpot opens on VOD and in limited theatrical release on July 27th.