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.

The Hunters 2/Jägarna 2 aka False Lead (2011):Nordic Noir?

*Warning this contains spoilers about the first film, The Hunters* 

Directed again by Kjell Sunderland and starring Rolf Lassgård (who reprises his role as Erik Backstrom) and Peter Stormare as his nemesis Torsten a local cop in the Norrbotten area of the first film.

It has been 15 years since the explosive climax of events from the first film. Erik’s brother had a son named Peter (Kim Tjernström) who lives with his mother Karin (Annika Nordin) and her husband Torsten. At the beginning of the film the entire village is out for a hunt. Peter and Torsten are together hunting as a team. Their job is to catch any strays who survive the hunter’s onslaught.

As the hunt is being organised, a young woman covered with blood is running through the forest. She is obviously running for her life. The camera comes up behind her as she is shot. At the hunt, Torsten gets a call from his boss Mats (Johan Paulsen) telling him that they have found the woman’s car and it is apparent that she has been missing for some time.

The hunt is called off when Torsten arrives and finds the car’s trunk (boot) full of blood.

Erik is sent by his superior to go back to the area to help with their investigations. The reasoning is that as he is from that area he is the most logical detective to go. Erik is far from happy as he knows his nephew Peter is there with his mother. Despite his misgivings he has no choice but to go.

When Erik arrives he finds that the local police really “like” a young man named Jari for the young woman’s disappearance. Mainly because Jari is already suspected of having stabbed Torsten as the two men do not get along.

While search parties comb the area for Elin, the missing girl, the police arrest Jari and take him into custody. When Erik first arrives Torsten is friendly and insists that he meet Karin and Peter. Relations between the two men become strained when Erik insists that the local police investigate the allegations against Jari professionally.

As in the first film, Erik has his work cut out for him while he battles his family and the local police. With his every move being blocked, either by Torsten or Karin and Peter, the tension causes Erik to relive the anguish of his brother’s crimes and his death.

Torsten and Backstrom aka Stormare and.Lassgård

Torsten, who appears to be such an upright member of society at the start of the film, begins to show another less favourable side to his personality.

As much as I loved the first film with its xenophobic atmosphere surrounding local villages and their secrets, False Lead increases the tension to an almost unbearable level. The suspense surrounding Elin’s disappearance and murder and Erik’s frustration at having his every move questioned and blocked make the atmosphere uncomfortable at the very least.

The addition of Peter Stormare to the cast was a brilliant move. He is able to match Lassgård in every scene and the battle between the two “alpha males” becomes a clash of wills where you really wonder who is going to win or be proved right.

Despite the fact that Kjell Sunderland did not write this screenplay, his touch is apparent in every scene and every frame of the film. A 15 year break between the first and second film has not lessened Lassgård’s impact as Backstrom and Storemare does what he does best, playing characters that turn out to be very damaged, strange and dangerous.

Backstrom is a dedicated detective who will not stop until he has solved a crime to his satisfaction. Torsten is a control freak and a bully who uses anyone he can to achieve his goals. Jari, the preferred suspect is a societal misfit who could care less what his peers think of him and he is just as much of an alpha male as the other two men.

In some ways this film resembled the old Columbo formula of the audience knowing who the murderer is and waiting impatiently for Backstrom to prove us right. In this instance we don’t really know, but we damned well suspect someone and it sure isn’t Jari. The main difference was that Columbo cleverly used the criminal’s ego against him and it was this that enabled the rain coated cop to catch his “man.”

Backstrom relies on his “gut instinct” and his need to find all the pieces of the puzzle. He will not stop until he gets to the truth and catches his suspect. In a way, he is the ultimate hunter of both films, the first and the second, and this time he is also a tragic figure who is trying to deal with his guilt over his brother’s crime and death.

This is another great film from Sweden and a brilliant sequel; if you can stand watching it with your teeth gritted and your knuckles white from clenching the chairs arms, it will be well worth the discomfort.

I am not sure about the marketing ploy of it being a Nordic noir film, but it is a damned fine mystery thriller and a real 5 star film. It also makes it crystal clear just what a high calibre actor that Rolf Lassgård is.

Rolf Lassgård world-class actor.

Jägarna aka The Hunters (1996) Swedish Straw Dogs

Directed and co-written by Kjell Sundvall, The Hunters proves that Thomas Wolfe was right; you can’t go home again. Or at least you probably shouldn’t as the main protagonist Erik Backstrom finds when he returns to his hometown of Norrbotten. Erik is a detective from Stockholm where he gained the status of hero after catching a criminal who also shot him.

He returns home to attend his father’s funeral and he tells his brother Leif that he is returning to Norrbotten now that his kids have all grown and left home. He puts in for a transfer to the local police station and as there is a vacancy it is approved. He soon finds that small town police have a very bad habit of turning a blind eye to what they consider “victimless crime.”

In this case the crime is reindeer poaching on a massive scale. No one really cares about the Laplander’s animal’s being slaughtered as they are reimbursed by the government. Erik goes to investigate the latest incident and finds that his new partner is less than eager to pursue the matter. Once they return to the station, he discovers that the killings have been going on for a long time and he starts to realize the size of the problem.

As Erik delves deeper into the poaching problem, the local populace start to turn against him and the group of hunters he suspects include his brother. After a day of fishing one of the group Tomme starts needling Erik and he goes out to Tomme’s truck and confiscates his rifles to see if they are licensed or not.

They are not and the guns are supposed to be destroyed. Unfortunately Erik’s partner is related to Tomme and the guns are given back to him. As the heat on the men increases with each investigative act by Erik, they fall behind in their meat supplies and go out hunting in a bit of a hurry.

Tomme a Swedish good old boy.

They spy a deer while driving through the woods and using the truck they chase it down. Tomme shoots from the moving vehicle and when the men go to find the body, they find that Tomme has shot and killed a Russian blackberry picker by mistake. The men decide to cover up the accidental shooting and things quickly turn murderous.

In The Hunters, Kjell Sunderland tells us that you don’t have to live in the backwoods of America to find rednecks or people who act like creepy “inbred” hillbillies. The feeling you get after meeting the local “boys” in Norrbotten is that they would not be out-of-place in John Boorman‘s Deliverance country or the fictional Cornwall village of Wakely in Sam Peckinpah‘s Strawdogs.

These locals are not friendly if you don’t agree with what they do. Outsiders are treated as second class citizens and they are not above ostracizing people they don’t like. When they were younger Erik moved away while Leif stayed in the village. Their father was a cruel and harsh father who beat Leif often. In a scene early on in the film, Erik says that he always felt guilty about leaving Leif behind and asks if the “old man” beat him often. Leif replies off-handily that the beatings did not hurt him and that he was okay.

The film then goes on to show that Leif is far from okay and as the two brothers begin to argue the cracks of Leif’s “good-old-boy” facade begin to show and we realise that he is in fact a pretty nasty bit of work; someone who flouts the law and is not above shooting his own dog dead for disobedience.

This Swedish film was one of the biggest hits at the box office in 1996. *Courtesy of Wikipedia.* After viewing it, you can see why. The movie has been put together extremely well and the suspense of this tight intricate thriller is almost unbearable at times. It can also be very uncomfortable to watch and not a little frustrating as we see Erik getting more caught up in the action.

As Erik uncovers more evidence that will catch the poachers, more evidence becomes hidden. When he decides to “go public” the entire town and the police department turn against him.

The film captures the small town xenophobic practice of closing in against “outsiders” and the awkwardness of returning to your childhood home and finding that things have changed and discovering that even your family has a few skeletons in the closet. The Hunters feels like a Swedish Strawdogs meets Deliverance with a dash of Walking Tall thrown in.

Not a group that you’d want to go out drinking with; or hunting.

Spiritually the film belongs in that same sort of genre that so put the average tourist off of visiting rural America’s back roads. In this case though, I do feel like if I ever had the opportunity to visit Sweden, I’d stay on the well beaten track and avoid small villages. I am sure that Sweden is a safe place to visit as long as you don’t go hunting with the locals or wander out to pick blackberries.

Actor Rolf Lassgård plays Erik and he is an excellent actor. Well known in Sweden, he made me think (for some odd reason) of John Goodman. All the actors really sold the film with special kudos going to Jarmo Mäkinen as Tomme and Tomas Norström as the mentally challenged dog breeder Ove. I also fell in love with Helena Bergström as the Prosecuting Attorney and who has actually worked with Rolf before.

Another great “Scandi-crime” film and one well worth the effort involved to track it down. My final verdict is 4 and a half stars.

*Warning: this film contains scenes of animal dismemberment and a lot of blood and literal guts. If you are offended by seeing what appears to be real butchery of animals do not watch the first moments of this film.*

shoot
If animal bloodshed makes you feel like this, avoid the film. (actor Rolf Lassgård as Erik)

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.

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo: Diamonds aren’t a Girls Best Friend

Inspector Harry Hole is back and this time he is after a serial killer who has a penchant for diamonds and a flair for theatrical murder scene staging. Harry is still trying to get enough evidence to bring his colleague Tom Waaler to justice for the murder of Harry’s old partner Ellen.

Rakel, Harry’s girlfriend is still on the periphery and Harry’s battle with booze is still just as difficult as ever.

Nesbo writes a mean crime thriller. With Harry Hole, we have a hero most flawed; not only self-destructive but harmful to those who care about him most. Harry’s biggest inner demon is not his constant craving for alcohol, but his addiction to crime itself. The allure of the murder scene with its puzzles, clues, and questions left unasked.

Tom Waaler, who has been present in the Harry Hole series for a while now, is a thoroughly unpleasant character. Overbearing and sadistic, he is also a “dirty cop” who has more secrets than he can keep control of. And that is what Waaler does best, control things. His sideline business of smuggling and knowing where all the skeletons are buried make him an appropriate challenge for Harry.

While Harry is busy confronting Waaler, they are forced to team up on a series of murders in Oslo. Each victim has been found with a star-shaped diamond piece of jewellery on their body and Harry soon breaks “the code” that the killer has left at each crime scene. The killer appears to be a bike courier who has a bad habit of cutting off pieces of the victim’s body and then leaving them as clues.

While Harry gets ever closer to finding out who the killer is, Waaler continues to entice and threaten Harry into either joining him in his extra-curricular activities or pay the consequences. Even going so far as to threaten Harry’s friends and endanger Rakel and Oleg.

While not as international as the other books in the Harry Hole series, the only external locations from Oslo are Prague and Switzerland, the action is just as fast paced and the puzzles just as good. There are the usual red herrings and misdirection for the reader and Harry to follow and discard.

My one bone of contention, if it can be called that, was that I guess very early on in the book where one of the “missing” bodies was going to be hidden and I cannot say how disappointed I was when proved right. Still, that was the only thing I guessed correctly out of the entire book.

Nesbo has brought so much life to Inspector Harry Hole and the world he inhabits that all of them seem like real living breathing people. If Harry doesn’t succumb to all the cigarettes that he chain smokes, he will continue to solve crimes for a long, if not tortured, time.

As I have mentioned before, I have been reading the books out-of-order. It would probably be a good idea for the new reader to follow the books in order. I don’t mind knowing that certain characters will not be around later or that Harry will change partners for one reason or another, but other folks might just be put off.

By all means if you want to just read one of the books, it does not matter if you’ve read any others in the series. Each book can be read as a stand-alone story. Nesbo writes each one with enough background information that no questions are raised that interferes with the plotline.

I am sure that one day soon, Nesbo will stop being touted as the “next Stieg Larsson” and get credit for the talent that he so inherently shows with each new book.

The Devil’s Star is a 4 ½ out of 5 stars only because I guessed where the body was going to turn up.

Author Jo Nesbo.