Fantasia Fest 2012 Review: Norway’s ‘Jackpot’ Is Exactly That

By  · Published on August 21st, 2012

Oscar is having a bad day. When we first meet him, he’s lying underneath a massive woman clutching a shotgun at a strip club full of corpses. The police are obviously curious as to his connection with all this death and destruction. As Oscar sits in the interrogation room of the police station, he relays a bizarre tale of soccer betting winnings, of gangsters, and of murder. Is Oscar a liar, a killer, or just completely out of his mind?

More and more, the collected nations of Scandinavia are proving to have an unparalleled mastery of the crime film. Whether it be a brutal descent into the depths of human ugliness like Sweden’s Millennium Trilogy or something intricately tense and darkly comedic like Norway’s Headhunters, it’s gotten to the point that the assemblage of the words Scandinavian and crime film are enough to heighten many a film geek’s excitement and expectation. Sharp as a concealed knife, and dripping with black comedy, Jackpot proudly takes it place beside the best of this budding new wave of rule-breaker cinema from the north of Europe.

Jackpot takes the trademarks of film noir and places them at odds with the two decidedly different types of thugs, the unconscionably violent, and the desperately hapless. The brilliance of Jackpot’s script, is that like a blood-stained Venn diagram, it finds unique methods by which to cross these two groups. This overlap is part and parcel with the ever-increasing outlandishness of an ill-conceived criminal enterprise getting further and further out of hand. While we may not be eager to see all the conspirators succeed in their illicit endeavor, we also know that a conviction for a character we dislike will inevitably doom a scoundrel who has earned more moral flexibility. Ultimately, we are just praying for a resolution that doesn’t find everyone citizen of this small town dead.

As much as Jackpot may lean toward the more humorous side of the Scandinavian crime film continuum, there is no mistaking the skillful handling of the action interludes. The gunfights simmer delightfully in standoff before erupting into wild, blood-letting carnivals. These moments occupy far less screen time than does the comedy and illegal intrigue, but the masterstroke of the Jackpot screenplay is putting these climactic moments out-of-synch at the beginning of the film. The constant threat of another explosion of unrestrained violence creates suitable tension to underscore the remainder of the film.

There is something distinctive about the comedy of errors taking place in Jackpot. Namely, the errors are not the byproducts of good intentions, as the intentions are almost always nefarious. It’s like watching a gambler drunkenly wager his life savings, win, and then try and cheat the casino out its entire till and make it out the front door. The black comedy is most pronounced in moments when hardened criminal and novice criminal alike illustrate the overwhelming logistical difficulty of committing heinous acts. The dissection of a corpse during one of the movie’s most paradoxically hilarious moments perfectly encapsulates the deliberate and well-struck tone that gives Jackpot its deliciously macabre identity.

Across the board, there is not a weak performance to be found in the whole of Jackpot. The collective strength of its cast is vital to executing all the film’s various gags without the tone venturing into detrimentally mean-spirited territory. It is an exercise in finding the latent humanity in even the most reprehensible of characters, and the challenge is duly met by the performers. The pacing of the film is spry, giving the audience little opportunity to take root and get comfortable with any perceived stasis. Jackpot’s ending is outstanding. It’s less a surprise as it is a satisfying payoff to a long-fused keg of dynamite lit in the first act.

The Upside: A phenomenal script that adeptly blends crime thriller with black comedy.

The Downside: It will make you seriously reconsider ever again purchasing a miniature Christmas tree.

On the Side: Lasse’s store clerk is a reference to Maynard from Pulp Fiction.

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.