Monday, 14 March 2016

Film Review - 'Jackpot'

Imagine if The Usual Suspects were directed by Quentin Tarantino. That might be overselling this darkly comic Norwegian crime film a bit, sure, but the comparison still stands. Jackpot (Arme Riddere) does, after all, blend the basic premise of a story revealed through flash-backs during the coarse of a police interrogation, made famous by The Usual Suspects, with the occasionally extreme (and, occasionally disturbingly amusing) use of violence which Quentin Tarantino has managed to refine into something of an art-form. That being said, though, Jackpot is also a film that is also perfectly capable of standing on its own - taking those different elements, and blending them together into a genuinely entertaining, if absurdly violent, crime caper.

The tone of the film is set right from the opening scene - with a group of the most generic 'college students out for a good time' stereotypes imaginable (the sort of guys who randomly exchange 'high-fives', for no apparent reason - that's really all the characterisation they are given, here) stop off at a strip-club in Sweden, as part of their sordid adventures. They head in, looking to enjoy a show, only to find themselves themselves confronted by a room full of men with guns. Their arrival seems to be all it takes to set things off - as the men promptly open fire.

Jumping straight to the aftermath, now, where the police investigation reveals a room full of dead bodies, and only a single survivor, Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum), who seems to have survived by hiding under the body of a dead stripper. Oscar is quickly taken into custody - and, through him, we gradually uncover the bizarre sequence of events which led to that violent shoot-out in a Swedish strip-club.

For Oscar, it all began when he was encouraged to take part in a football pool promising a pretty substantial pay-out should they correctly pick 12 out of 12 winners. Oscar, though, just so happens to be the manager of a recycling plant that exclusive employs recently released convicted criminals, in order to aid in their rehabilitation - and, it is three of his current employees who act as his partners in this endeavour. It is hardly an ideal situation for him to be in, especially when the four find themselves in possession of a winning ticket, promising a prize that will need to be split four ways. Thor Eggen (Mads Ousdal) owes a lot of money to a very dangerous man. Billy Utomjordet (Arthur Berning) is violent, and possibly a little crazy. Dan Treschow (Andreas Cappelen) seems harmless enough - but, he is also dead by the time Oscar returns from a quick trip to buy celebratory drinks.

So, now, we have three men. Two criminals, and one man increasingly in over his head. We have a large sum of money currently set to be split three ways. And, we have a body which the three men will need to somehow get past Oscar's ex-cop land-lord. And, things only seem to get worse from there. Through it all, too, we also have the lingering question of exactly how someone like Oscar, who seems so genuinely out of his depth, could possibly have managed to survive to find himself sitting in a police station's interrogation room.

One absurd encounter quickly follows another, as we are slowly lead to the answer to that particular question. And, it never fails to be entertaining - rather morbidly, too, Jackpot also often manages to be incredibly funny. These aren't real people, after all - these are characters in an incredibly violent black comedy film. This means that, basically, each is really much closer to a broad caricature than a real person - though, admittedly, they are all genuinely well-played ones. In keeping with the expected conventions of your average 'black comedy', these people don't just don't react in the way a normal person would to the extreme violence taking place around them - which gives us, as the audience, permission to laugh at their misfortune, rather than be disturbed by it.

And, Jackpot is a film which seems to go out of its way to revel in its own violent absurdity. This is, after all, a film where two men can take a trip to the nearest cemetery, looking for a convenient place to bury a corpse, only for one to take the first opportunity to play a Weekend at Bernie's-inspired joke on the other. Or, where two ex-criminals can have a hilariously casual argument about whether it's better to start at the stomach or the neck when dismembering a body. It's the sort of film where the random appearances of a severed head can inspire laughter, rather than a grimace. Sure, this sort of black comedy doesn't appeal to everyone - but, if it does appeal to you, then Jackpot offers a highly entertaining study in how to do it right.

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