Jackpot (2011): Brilliant Black Comedy

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Written and directed by Magnus Martens and based on a story by Jo Nesbø, Jackpot is a hysterically funny film about the lack of honour among criminals and how one innocent man gets caught up in almost more than he can handle.

The film opens with two men in a police interviewing room in the Ostfold Police Station. One is covered in blood and bruises while the other man, who is in a suit, questions him. The first man is Oscar Svendson who one hour previously crawled out from under the body of a huge woman while clutching a shotgun, the only survivor of a massive shoot-out in the club.

As Oscar struggles to tell the police detective what happened we are treated to a flash-back. A car with three young men is going down the road.We see it drive into the car park of a strip-club/video store called Pink Heaven. The three young men jump out and trot through the door eagerly calling out, “Any pussy in here?” As the doors close on them, gunfire erupts and all three men are shot.

As the opening credits roll, we see the carnage left in the club and we meet the detective who will question Oscar later in the film.

The Cast:

Kyrre Hellum
Oscar Svendson
Mads Ousdal
Thor Eggen
Henrik Mestad
Solør
Arthur Berning
Billy Utomjordet

The Plot:

Oscar is a sort kind of Parole Officer/Supervisor in a “Halfway House” factory that employs ex-convicts when they are released from prison. The factory makes small plastic Christmas trees. Oscar enters a football pool with three of the ex-cons who work there. Thor, Dan, and Billy all fill in tickets and Oscar drops them off paying for all the men to play. Oscar’s girlfriend tells him to change the first team that they’ve chosen to win to a draw.

When the match is televised the teams do indeed play to a draw, Billy, Thor and Dan are furious until they find that Oscar had changed the first match bet. They win over 1.7 million on the pool. Unfortunately for Oscar, despite his good fortune, his troubles are just beginning.

Waiting for the results...
Waiting for the results… Oscar, Billy, Dan, and Thor.

The Device:

The film switches from interview room to flashback and certain “scenes of the crime” where the flashbacks must “marry up” with the story that Oscar relates to Police Detective Solor (Mestad). Each flashback features more hysterically funny bad luck on the part of Oscar.

The Twist:

By the end of the film you’re left asking; did it really happen that way?

The Verdict:

Rib-tickling fun. Despite the fact that the amount of gore and blood-letting in the film could equal a Takeshi Miike movie, the film is almost hysterically funny. The action, which could be described as overly violent slapstick is blackly funny and is helped by the dialogue which can range from dry dead-pan delivery to over-the-top hilarity.

At one point Oscar is relating something and he states that when Plan A failed they had to resort to Plan B. The detective asks, “What was Plan b?” Oscar responds, “Not very good.” Very, very funny.

Due to the amount of violence and death; blood and gore; and some pretty gruesomely funny means of body disposal the film can only be classified as a black comedy. Jackpot has to be the funniest crime film I’ve seen in ages and I am amazed that Hollywood has not already snapped this film up for a remake.

A real gut-busting 5 stars out of 5 for a brilliant mix of hilarity and death. Proving once again that the Scandinavian countries don’t just write good crime fiction, but, they make great films as well.

Don’t miss it.

Going over the crime scene.
Going over the crime scene…Oscar and Detective Solor.

Phantom by Jo Nesbo: Harry’s Hat Trick

Phantom by Jo Nesbo is his latest Harry Hole book in the series. It is quite easily the most intricate of all the Hole novels to date. Impressive in its length and even more impressive in scope; Harry has more plates spinning than a circus clown.

Harry is back in Oslo from Hong Kong where he has sobered up, straightened out and is working as a debt collector. He is fit, tan and wearing a new suit. Despite this “moneyed” appearance however, it’s the same old Harry. Still sporting the Frankenstein scar on the side of his face from his last life or death scenario and only marginally in charge of his old inner demons.

He has come to Oslo for a very personal reason. Oleg, his ex-lover’s son, is on remand for murder. It appears that on top of growing a metre and a bit in the height department, Oleg has been sampling a new drug. Called violin it is more addictive than heroin and less likely to cause an over dose. His choice of drug and friends has put him in a bad position and Harry has come to prove Oleg innocent.

We meet a dying drug addict at the beginning of the book. He has the misfortune to be blocking a mother rat’s access to her nest and young. As this young man lies dying, he relives his short life in his mind. We learn that his name is Gusto and that he looks an awful lot like Elvis, not the spitting image, but he has the same charisma and effect on people. It leads him into the interesting life of a thief and drug addict/pusher.

It is this young man who Oleg is accused of shooting and killing. Harry goes to see his old boss and asks for his job back. Harry is told that this is an “open and shut” case. He is not to investigate it and if he wants to return to the police force in Oslo, he will have to try some place else. Harry decides to investigate anyway.

He learns of Oslo’s leading drug lord a man known as Dubai. He is also known as a phantom, because no one has ever seen him; no one that is, who lives to tell the tale. Harry promises Rakel that he will clear Oleg of the charges and find who the real killer is.

He also learns that Dubai has put all the other drugs pushers out of business with the help of the Oslo police and that the new drug violin is manmade and does not require the usual opiate base that has to be smuggled in. In fact, violin is being smuggled out of the country to the very place where the poppies grow.

He approaches the last of his dwindling number of friends for information and approaches his  old nemesis, Mikael Bellman and his thuggish toady for the same reason. He also meets an old man called Cato who, among other things, masquerades as a priest.

While following the clues that will clear up who really shot Gusto, Harry will learn of lost innocence and a young romance gone sour. He will discover that corruption in Oslo reaches very high in the police bureau and he will also learn just how far he will go to protect a loved one. He will also eventually meet his criminal doppelgänger; a doppelgänger that does not look like Harry but is his evil equivalent.

Number 8 in the series, Phantom weaves a web that ebbs and flows, constantly changing the faces and postions of the players trapped in it. As per usual, Harry is in a race against time and someone wants him stopped…dead.

I cannot praise this book enough and I have to literally hold myself back from revealing too much about the plot and the book’s players. This is easily a 5 star book that I could not put down till I finished it. Do yourself a favour and read it!

Author Jo Nesbo.

Headhunters/Hodejegerne (2011): Short Man Attitude…

At the risk of sounding like an old Carlsberg lager advertisement, Headhunters is probably the best film adaptation of a book…ever. With a screenplay by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg based on the book by Jo Nesbo and directed by Morten Tyldum, Headhunters is a thriller of the highest order with more than capable acting from all involved.

The film stars Aksel Hennie as the 1.68 metre hero Roger Brown; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the Dutchman Clas Greve (and if ever there was a man born to play Resident Evil’s Leon Kennedy it’s Nikolaj, he looks like he’s stepped right out of Resi 4 or Resi 6); Nikolaj will be better known by English audiences from his work on Game of Thrones. The two female leads in the film are Synnøve Macody Lund as Diana Brown and Julie R. Ølgaard as the scheming Lotte. Synnøve is not an actress by profession, she’s a journalist and this is her first film. That she acquitted herself so well is amazing.

I first saw Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the 1994 Norwegian film Nightwatch. Interestingly, this was remade in 1997 as a vehicle for Ewan McGregor who went on to work with Nikolaj in 2001’s Blackhawk Down. It is interesting in that both actors display similar virtues in their work, a subtlety and awareness that enhance their performances and make them stand out in a film.

For those of you who have read Jo Nesbo’s brilliant book, you will know the plot already. If you have not had the pleasure of reading Headhunters, I suggest you rush down to your local book seller or library and do so. In the mean time, you will have to follow my recitation of the plot.

Roger Brown is one of Norway’s best headhunters. He is married to Diana and he lives a lavish lifestyle well above his salary. To supplement this lifestyle, he steals valuable art work and sells them with the help of his partner in crime Ove Kijkerud (played with a certain comic deviousness by Eivind Sander, who looked maddeningly familiar to me). Despite Roger’s supplemental income, he’s running low on financial resources and Diana is desperate for a child after seven years of marriage.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie)

While attending his wife’s art gallery opening he meets Clas Greve via an introduction by Diana. Roger discovers that Clas, who is the ex-CEO of a multimillion dollar GPS company a priceless painting in his possession and that he would be perfect for Roger’s current client Pathfinder. A Norwegian GPS company searching for a new CEO.

When Roger (with the aid of Ove) breaks into Clas’s flat to steal the painting, he finds Diana’s mobile (cell) phone in the bedroom. The next time he sees Clas, he tells him that the company is still interviewing candidates for the new position and he tells Diana that he will not be recommending Clas for the job.

Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)

We see Ove going to Roger’s house to presumably pick up the painting. The next morning Roger goes to his garage to get in his car to drive to work. He discovers Ove apparently dead in the front seat of his car. Panicking, Roger shoves Ove into the boot (trunk) of his car just as Diana comes down to see if he (Roger) is all right.

Roger takes Ove’s body to a lake and fills the body’s pockets with stones and rolls Ove into the lake. As Roger sits on the lake shore catching his breath, Ove suddenly appears gasping for his breath only to sink under the water again. Roger jumps in and drags Ove out and takes him to his house.

Ove tries to shoot Roger and ends up getting shot for his trouble. Roger’s life had become a scary cat and mouse game with him as the mouse. Clas will not stop until he has killed Roger.

The locations are beautiful and the cinematography is superb. Despite the “creative license” taken with the book, the film works and manages to crank the suspense up just as effectively as the novel itself did. You still find yourself second guessing and because certain things were changed in the film, you hold your breath at the end, just in case it doesn’t turn out how you expected it to.

Askel does a brilliant job as Roger Brown, the short man with attitude. He seemed to me (looks wise) to be an odd cross between Christopher Walken and David Hemmings. His acting was spot on, morphing effortlessly from over-confident prig to terrified victim to desperate fighter. He rang all the changes necessary to sell his character.

Nikolaj has always made me think of Sean Bean, they could almost be brothers, and he has not disappointed me yet in anything I’ve seen him in.

The film can be viewed in Norwegian with English subtitles and I would highly recommend viewing it that way. It is very rare that dubbed versions are as enjoyable as the original language version. I always feel that a huge amount is lost by having another actor voice the lines. I would give Headhunters a whopping 5 out of 5 stars and class it as a two bag of popcorn film.

Don’t miss it and don’t wait for the remake, see it now!

Clas and his best friend on the hunt for Roger.
 

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo: Multiple Murder…

Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis is a compulsive read. Like his other Harry Hole books it weaves a web of lies, subterfuge and murder. In this book, several murders and Harry is still after the killer who dispatched his old investigative partner Ellen.

The book starts with a bank robbery. We have a front row seat for the robbery itself and its murderous conclusion. Harry is attached to the robbery branch where he meets Beate Lonn a new officer who has a photographic memory for faces.

When the Oslo police department decide that the robbery is really a murder inquiry, Harry teams up with Beate to track the “bank robber” down.

In the meantime Harry’s love interest is in Moscow with her son Oleg fighting for custody with Oleg’s birth father. An old flame of Harry’s has apparently committed suicide and he realises that she was murdered.

Harry links up with Norway’s most prolific bank robber, a gypsy named Raskol, who is in fact the uncle of his old love. While the two men spar for information to both Anna’s (Harry’s past lover and Raskol’s neice) murder and the identity of the bank robber who killed a teller, the body count rises in this neatly constructed story.

Added to this already volatile mix is a colleague of Harry’s who is conspiring to have him framed for the murder of his old lover.

Nemesis is a typical Inspector Harry Hole novel. He is still a victim of his excesses, struggling with his alcoholism and his migraine headaches. He still operates “outside-the-box” while chasing suspects and in this book he has been given free rein to act as he sees fit.

As with all of Nesbo’s books, he paints a vivid picture of his characters and we are privy to their foibles and inner demons. His cast is multi-national as usual and we travel with Harry and Beate to another exotic “hot spot” where they are chasing one of the suspects.

Nesbo’s Norway is dark and occupied by a fatal combination of repressed people and their complete opposite, Dionysian villains. But this dark world is not divided equally into a black and white world. The lines between the two types of people converge and blur, so that a lot of grey areas dominate the scenes.

I have mentioned in the past that I am quickly becoming a huge fan of Herr Nesbo’s books. Hopefully publishers will tire of calling him the “next” or “new” Stieg Larrsson – a descriptive title given to any halfway decent writer of Scandinavian origin. I enjoy his books so much that I am in the slow and irritating process of reading all his English translated books.

Slow, because due to financial constraints I have to reserve books at the local library for perusal and irritating because I want to read them all, in order and now.

This is another brilliantly paced and delightfully confusing trail for all armchair detectives to follow. Of course we do not have the burning need to catch the bad guys like Harry Hole does, but, we love the journey of discovery after discovery as each onion-like layer is stripped away. Despite the fact that I am not reading the books in order – something that tinges each story with a sort of sadness for the later Harry – each story stands on its own and doesn’t have to be read in any particular order.

My final verdict is that you should add this to your list of must-reads. A cracking 5 star gem of a book. Thanks Jo Nesbo for entertaining us so thoroughly.

Jo Nesbo

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo: A Killer Interview…

As you can see from the front of the book Headhunters will soon be a “MAJOR MOTION PICTURE” although technically it already is. Released in 2011 from Norway the film opened to positive reviews from both sides of the Atlantic. I am surprised that a Hollywood motion picture studio has not already given Headhunters the “Hollywood remake treatment.” Hollywood was certainly quick enough to re-make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Headhunters is a relatively short book, almost a novella, at only 265 pages. But in this “short” novel Jo Nesbo manages to pack one hell of a great sucker punch for the reader lucky enough to have stumbled upon his book.

I became a Nesbo fan after coming across a blurb talking about his latest Harry Hole thriller. The name was enough to make me curious and I read the Hole book (sorry about the pun) and fell in love with not only his protagonist, but the writer as well. Although Headhunters does not feature Harry nor is it part of the series, Nesbo displays the same crisp narrative as he does for his serial killer hunter.

Headhunters starts with introducing us to Roger Brown, he’s an exclusive (top of the heap, he says) recruiting specialist aka a headhunter. He’s the best at what he does and is well compensated for his efforts. He uses a 7 point FBI interrogation model as his interview template and he is ruthless in his search for the right candidate.

Brown also suffers from what a friend of mine amusingly refers to as “short man’s attitude.” In other words his lack of height makes him a bit egotistical and aggressive. He also highly values his own capabilities as a recruiter, husband, and thief.

It turns out that Roger has a pretty opulent lifestyle, one which he supplants with art theft from his potential candidates. Using the interview as a distraction and a means to discover what valuable art the interviewees own, he then steals them with the aid of his criminal partner.

One candidate, Clas Greve (a high flyer in the world of GPS manufacture and an ex-mercenary) has a priceless painting by Paul Rueben and here is where the story takes off. It changes from the Napoleon-esque ramblings of egocentric Roger Brown and becomes a fight for survival.

The opening salvo from Nesbo is a scene where Roger is in a crashed car surrounded by dead bodies and Roger is extolling his thoughts on car crashes and the resultant mayhem caused by them. He finishes his thoughts with the explanation that he is a murderer and that his time is short. He then goes on to relay his story to us via the first person narrative which works very well for the book.

Nesbo is brilliant at setting up stories that move quickly and efficiently throughout. His pacing is electric and his characters stand out. He is also not averse to pulling the metaphorical wool over the eyes of his readers. Roger goes through a character arc that explains a lot about who he is and how he became the man he is now and will soon be.

Clas is a truly scary man who, as an ex-mercenary, is more than capable of tracking down and killing his prey. Both Clas and Roger are predators of a dissimilar nature, but as the story evolves they merge to become the same type of killing machine.

My only disappointment with the book was that at 265 pages it was too short a read. Still entertaining and so fast paced it left me breathless, but, damn it could have been a little longer.

I will now have to watch the Norwegian film that was based on the book. Although, according to Wikipedia at any rate, the film does deviate somewhat from the novel. If ever a book had been written that screamed to be made into a film, Headhunters is that book.

I would definitely give the book a full five out of five stars. Full of fascinating characters and, once the books shifts into fifth gear midway, grips you fiercely until the end. Headhunters is just another winning “Scandi-crime” thriller from author Jo Nesbo.