With Kyrre Hellum, Mads Ousdal, Henrik Mestad, Arthur Berning, Lena Kristin Ellingsen. Written by Magnus Martens (screenplay) and Jo Nesbø (book). Directed by Magnus Martens. No MPAA Rating (R equivalent). 90 minutes.
Scandinavian literature has grown tremendously in popularity since the frenzy generated by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s “Dragon Tattoo” series, but it is usually met with either love or hate by the American reading public. It is dark and heavy and leaves a disturbing aftertaste that some find too much to handle. Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s work, however, is surprisingly easy to digest for even the most impatient reader. His sense of humor comes through in subtle doses that don’t detract from the serious tone of murder. Instead, it makes him human enough to feel as though you would be comfortable sitting down to share a meal and conversation with him. So far, Norwegian filmmakers are taking great care in transposing that from the source material to the screen.
After Morten Tyldum’s superb 2012 adaptation of Nesbø’s “Headhunters,” we now have another smart screen translation of another Nesbø story with Magnus Marten’s JACKPOT (the original title: “Arme Riddere,” or “French Toast”). In it, Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) wakes up pinned under a large black woman in a seedy strip bar/adult book store. The problem is that the woman on top of him is as dead as the eight men littering the floor around him. Oh, and he has a shotgun clenched in his hands and the cops are there.
At the police station, Oscar recounts to police Inspector Solør (played to perfection by Henri Mestad) the fuzzy hours leading up to that moment. Understandably, Solør takes the pieces of Oscar’s yarn with a heavy dose of sarcastic scrutiny. Oscar, who is no stranger to trouble or police, tries desperately to maintain his innocence and explain that it is due to a whole set of coincidental circumstances that start with the chance winning of a lottery ticket that was purchased with three other reformed criminals. To delve further would be to divulge spoilers.
Henrik Mestad’s performance is a refreshing change from the stereotypical Scandinavian detective trope. He comes off instantly more likable than Krister Henriksson’s and Kenneth Branagh’s separate (yet respectively stoic) portrayals of popular Swedish author Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander on Swedish television and on BBC.
The way Nesbø and Martens dissect and present violence surpasses such labels as dark comedy or comedic noir. “Jackpot” and “Headhunters” are the kinds of movies that Tarantino would love to put out if he had the capability to look beyond making every outing about witty dialogue and “favorite scenes.” These hit closer to a Coen Brothers’ vision with subtitles. In fact, there is a scene towards the end of “Jackpot” that may well be a flattering nod to a famous wood-chipper scene at the end of the Coen Brothers’ hit “Fargo.” It is unfair though, to compare this work to Stateside cinema, because of the inherent creepiness and mystery that surrounds the icy nucleus of the Scandinavian art forms, on display so effectively here.•••