TMN Movie Review: "Jackpot"

Photo Credit: Music Box Films

Rating: NR
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: June 27, 2014
Directed by: Magnus Martens
Genre: Action / Comedy / Crime

Christmas Eve is supposed to be filled with family, food and final touches before Christmas Day, and several films portray it that way. A few films choose to portray it as more of a nuisance or stressful occasion where there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done. "Jackpot" portrays it as a drunken party that turns into a bloody killing spree, replete with death scenes in an actual Christmas tree plant.

The Christmas tree plant in question is where Oscar (Kyrre Hellum) works as a foreman, supervising gadabouts Thor (Mads Ousdal), who he has known since he was a kid, Billy (Arthur Berning) and Dan (Andreas Cappelen). Instead of visiting family on Christmas Eve, they gather to watch soccer and place a longshot bet on 12 of the matches. They end up guessing correctly on every single one of the matches, meaning they win the jackpot of 1.7 million kroner. As a comparison, this is roughly $280,000 in U.S. dollars, which has to be split four ways. Still, that is a large sum of money for a bunch of ex-cons who construct mini faux Christmas trees for a living. Apparently, it's still not enough for some of the crew. When an elated Oscar returns to his apartment after buying some alcohol to celebrate, he finds Dan bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

Thor and Billy claim self defense, explaining that Dan came at them first in an effort to steal all the loot before Oscar got home. Oscar really wants to believe Thor, whom he truly cares for and has been longtime friends with. Unfortunately, he feels that Thor is lying because he is afraid of sociopath Billy. Soon, all three men are suspicious of each other, especially when strip club owner Lasse (Peter Andersson) shows up to try and collect Thor's debt to him, which he claims is 1 million kroner. Chaos and black, often slapstick, comedy follows as the body count rises and each of the men tries to kill the other before he gets killed himself. Only one man is left standing at the end, but it may turn out to be a very hollow victory indeed.

"Jackpot" is based on a book by Jo Nesbø, a Norwegian writer who has a very interesting point of view that is often not easy to adapt for the screen. His prose is riddled with quirky, rifle-fast dialogue that feels a bit like a Quentin Tarantino film when seen in film format. In fact, he also follows Tarantino's trademark style of starting his films at a random point in the narrative, then letting the story unfold in a serious of flashbacks. When the film begins, one of the three men has been caught by a detective named Solør (Henrik Mestad), who grills him like a steak. The problem is that, much like the character Verbal in the magnificent "The Usual Suspects," much of what comes out of his mouth sounds unbelievable. Is he telling the truth? The fact that the narrator is unreliable makes the story much more interesting and keeps the audience on their toes regarding how the story ends.

The film can also be compared a bit to another fantastic crime caper, "Fargo." When the boys have to dispose of a body, they do so in the plastic shredder at the Christmas tree plant, which is reminiscent of the infamous wood chipper scene in "Fargo." In fact, the film borrows heavily from several films, turning it into something of a paean to those classics. It's fine to be derivative, as long as the film has something new to offer. In this case, "Jackpot" offers a Norwegian sensibility that is pitch black in its tone and comedy. Thankfully, nothing really gets lost in the translation to English subtitles, so even those who generally dislike subtitled movies can enjoy this film. There is just enough action to break up the subtitles a bit and make the movie easier and more enjoyable to watch. Just beware that the action is bloody and gory, yet unapologetically funny at the same time.

Remembering that the narrator who is telling the story via flashback may or may not be telling the truth, it should be no surprise that the story ends with a doozy of a twist, much like "The Usual Suspects." It feels like the final nod to the masterpiece crime films that "Jackpot" borrows from, and it is effective. Even without the twist ending, the film still works on its own merits due to good acting, razor-sharp dialogue and Nesbø's obvious penchant for humor that is as dark as night.