Jo Nesbø’s ‘Jackpot’ has macabre comedic thrills, though flounders a bit in its finale

Written for the screen and directed by Magnus Martens
Norway, 2011

Following Headhunters, Jackpot is the second of an increasing list of Jo Nesbø adaptations for the big screen, and is similarly concerned with a hapless individual thrown into increasingly violent and absurd predicaments. Magnus Marten’s film’s greatest strength is its frequently funny blend of dry humour with dark, violent comedy of a cartoonish nature. It’s this quality, and the general idiocy of the film’s protagonists, that brings to mind certain Ealing comedies and the Coen brothers. A particular body disposal sequence and the winter setting initiate Fargo comparisons specifically, though Jackpot’s attempts at tension never reach the levels that duo’s comedic thrillers still tend to possess. A big factor for this is the film’s framing device, which involves a sole crime-scene survivor and suspect, still bloodied, regaling the events that have got him to that interrogation room. Since this character, Oscar (a brilliantly bemused Kyrre Hellum), is the sympathetic innocent of sorts amidst a group otherwise made up of violence-prone ex-cons, his established survival means the various threats upon his life in the flashbacks hold little weight.

This is not to suggest the framing device has no worth, because the interrogation scenes have a deliciously sarcastic bastard in the form of Henrik Melstad’s detective, though further humour beyond his quips comes from the narrative’s ridiculing of both his tough posturing and that of others elsewhere in the film: for all his talk, the harshest thing the detective actually does to Oscar is repeatedly refuse him a soda to quench his thirst. Another running comedic theme is the opportunism present throughout the town, not just with the major players but also one-scene characters like a farmer asking for monetary compensation when human remains are found in her pigs’ pen. These ideas are never explored in an especially deep fashion, and this is a film of admittedly hollow, dark pleasures rife with stereotype, but the execution is so entertaining that it’s forgivable. That is until the final fifteen minutes of the film, when Oscar’s flashback ends with him being crushed by a collapsing, bullet-ridden stripper, and everything needs to be wrapped up.

It is here where Jackpot leans into generic thriller reveal territory with only one really notable comedic moment that has much impact. The macabre glee of the preceding seventy minutes is lost as one last fool comes into play, greedily seeking the 1.7 million kroner bounty from a sporting pool win, and some late attempts at ambiguity regarding Oscar’s account of events fall flat. The film flounders in its conclusion, though a fun, shouty cover of Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” over the final shot and end credits means the exit doesn’t occur on an entirely down note.

Josh Slater-Williams

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