This sparky, violent thriller based on a novel by Jo Nesbø is never able to shake off its literary shackles.
On buses and trains up and down the country, a new breed of pop-lit superstar has risen. They're not so much household names, as they are familiar clusters of words and letters seen on commutes. This is no more relevant than in the how-the-hell-do-you-pronounce-that case of Jo Nesbø, one of the wave of Nordic writers currently treating our dour times to suitably dour crime fiction.
Earlier this year, Nesbø's potboiler thriller Headhunters was successfully adapted to the big screen, and Hollywood took notice, immediately snapping up the property as it previously did with Let the Right One In and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. However, with Jackpot, based on an original Nesbø story, director Magnus Martens has done most of the work for them.
From the off, this is an American-flavoured thriller. Surf guitar twangs and spy movie piano stabs evoke noir at its coolest, while character-announcing freeze-frames, complete with splashes of red and yellow text, recall Tarantino's giddy flair. But in its deadpan approach to its violent thriller set-up, Jackpot is entirely indebted to the Coen Brothers dry-witted classics Fargo and Blood Simple.
When hapless factory foreman Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum) is found unconscious in a corpse-strewn and blood-soaked strip joint, he has a lot of explaining to do. And that he does, under the guidance of police inspector Solør (Henrik Mestad).
As the film cuts back and forth, we are taken through Oscar's messy alibi, which begins with a huge win on the Norwegian football pools with a couple of shady coworkers, progresses through tension and backstabbing, before ending with an obligatory twist.
While its plot is nothing but conventional, Jackpot delights in the details, finding farcical humour in Oscar's increasingly unlikely tale. These quirks and absurdities – snooping landlords, dopey local coppers, difficult-to-dismember corpses – give the film a much cheekier edge when compared to its Scandinavian brethren. However, they share the same dreary milieu – that of grey, Nordic skies and endless drinking. It's no wonder that the money causes such grief. It offers a way out of this dull world.
It's a compelling ideal, but Oscar and co are stuck. Stuck inside a feature-length rumination on the unreliable narrator, something that, for all its sly humour, can't shake off its literary trappings. And not only are the characters' lives bound up in structural conventions, but the books on their coffee tables bear that familiar, inescapable name.
One that has come to symbolise cheap novels, three-for-two deals and the commuter crush. It seems that, no matter how hard you try, you just can't get away from Jo Nesbø.
Yet another Scandi crime flick.
Fun, bloody and darkly humorous.
As straightforward – and disposable – as an airport paperback.