Browsing through bookstores this summer (for those that still do this sort of thing) you may stumble across the name Jo Nesbø. A Norwegian author responsible for the popular Harry Hole series following a loner alcoholic detective on his investigations around Oslo and various other locales (currently eight novels and counting), his books continue to be translated for an English language readership in love with continuation, sequels, and a hint of darkness in their literature. Although we as Americans are not particularly discerning when it comes to showering our love and cash on crime stories (see Janet Evanovich or American crime television, particularly CSI), when the narratives are good — I mean really good — they immediately become beacons of storytelling in a sea of media mediocrity. This is why Twin Peaks became a phenomenon in the 1990s and True Detective stopped everyone in their tracks earlier this year. As Hollywood and television moguls search for new material, it looks as if Nesbø may quickly become one of their go-to sources — a good thing for lovers of quality crime escapades. The first film adapted from Nesbø’s oeuvre, Headhunters, was a well-received darkly comic crime thriller and one of the best performing Norwegian films of all time. He has since been rumored to be working with Leonardo DiCaprio on an adaptation of Blood on Snow, a novel he wrote under the pen name Tom Johansen.
Jackpot, then, marks the second “Nesbø crime film,” although this time it is an original story, not his novels, that serve as the source material. Director Magnus Martens — known in Norway for his television work — was a surprise choice to direct the film, but he shows enough skill with the cinematic medium to make things interesting. The film begins with Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum), manager of an artificial Christmas tree factory, waking up in a strip club surrounded by discharged weapons and dead bodies. The police, lead by cocky know-it-all Inspector Solør (Henrik Mestad), interrogate Oscar, kicking off a series of flashbacks that slowly unravel how he found his way into this precarious situation. Those who enjoyed the back-and-forth between past and present in True Detective will enjoy a similar technique in Jackpot (it should be noted this is not an original narrative device: Michael Curtiz’s elaborate noir, Mildred Pierce, was perhaps the first crime tale to implement this flawlessly). Strong-armed into a soccer betting pool with his ex-con employees (Oscar’s tree factory participates in a prison work rehabilitation program), they end up winning millions picking every match correctly, thanks in part to last minute advice from one of Oscar’s old flames. But even before the money is in their hands, members of the betting pool start to die.
The film never really attempts any mystery behind the killings — it is all told matter-of-factly to the disbelieving Inspector Solør — but it does have fun with its flashbacks. These bumbling small time criminals provide plenty of dark comedy as they careen from scenario to scenario, including the search for the head of a man in a field of sheep, a body stuffed in a tanning booth and the dismemberment of one of the betting pool members over casual conversation. It may sound like grim material, but compared to something like a Coen brothers film (to which this Nesbø-style crime caper will ultimately draw comparisons, particularly Fargo), it comes across as light-hearted. Although the ending lacks the of the rest of the film’s overall energy and slyness — attempting a bit of a twist — the other 85 minutes are good enough to forgive this minor misstep. We can only hope Hollywood treats Nesbø’s material so well in the coming years.