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Did you ever play this game with your friends as a child? You and your buddies sit around in a circle, each of you write a paragraph of a short story, fold it, then another kid writes the next paragraph without seeing what comes before it. This process continues until the page is full. Afterwards, you read the whole story and laugh about how hilariously nonsensical it turned out. Watching Jackpot is that kind of an experience.
Character backgrounds and motivations change wildly from scene to scene without any explanation, last-minute plot twists are haphazardly introduced without any foreshadowing or build-up, and every scene feels like it was made up on the fly, inspired by whatever location, actors and props they had available any given day.
This approach could have worked if we were dealing with a pretentious love letter to The French New Wave but for what's supposed to be a tightly wound crime comedy that depends heavily on clever plot construction, it proves to be somewhat of a disaster in narrative consistency.
Of course I'm not really accusing the makers of this new addition to the Scandinavian thriller sub-genre, which have been growing in popularity recently, of actually making up the story as they went along.
It's already based on a short story by Jo Nesbo, who also penned Headhunters, and I'm sure there was at least something close to a finished screenplay before the cameras started recording (Not "rolling", since I'm fairly certain it was shot digitally). However, something obviously went wrong either during production or post-production as the crew lost their handle on a quite simple story that becomes needlessly convoluted.
Jackpot is about a group of violent ex-cons who work at a Christmas tree factory in Norway. Three of the ex-cons and Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), their mild-mannered supervisor, bet on 12 soccer games and miraculously win 1.7 million Krone (Around 260.000 USD). Tensions between the group inexplicably rise and they begin offing each other in hilariously violent ways a-la Peter Berg's overrated Very Bad Things.
Even though the Blu-Ray cover insinuates that it's similar to recent, more levelheaded and somber Scandinavian thrillers like Headhunters and The Millennium Trilogy, Jackpot is actually nothing more than an ultraviolent live-action cartoon, full of bumbling idiots who botch various murders including the decapitation of a corpse where the head maintains a goofy frozen grin while the rest of the body is fed through a wood chipper (Fargo anyone?) The blood from the chipper painting the Christmas trees on the assembly line red is a clever visual, but director Magnus Martens ruins the effect by going back the same blood-soaked well one too many times.
The story begins with a no-nonsense detective named Solor (Henrik Mestad, whose intense performance is far and wide the best thing about Jackpot), who investigates the aftermath of a brutal shootout in a strip club/adult store. Everyone there is blown to bits except Oscar, who wakes up in the middle of the store with a shotgun in his hand. From this point on, we get a bit of a Usual Suspects vibe as we witness Oscar's deposition through a series of flashbacks. There's a bit of a Verbal Kint in Oscar as we're more and more suspicious about his version of the events until we reach the predictable and clunky twist that's near impossible not to dismiss immediately.
Even if Oscar's story is a load of crap, the motivations of the characters for murdering each other in increasingly violent ways are sorely lacking. The first murder happens when Oscar comes back from buying booze and finds out that one of the cons had to be killed apparently because he was being a nuisance. The plan for the second murder is inexplicably telegraphed to the intended victim when the other cons divide the winnings with one minus share on a whiteboard and proudly showcase it to him. Subtle.
Of course all of this might be part of Oscar's lies but Solor's supposed to be a seasoned cop, why doesn't he immediately call bullcrap on his tall tale as soon as he opens his mouth? What's worse is that when we finally find out what really happened, it makes even less sense than Oscar's story.
As I mentioned above, even though I couldn't find any concrete information online, I bet that Jackpot was shot using digital cameras. The post work on the film infuses the visuals with some depth and style but it still carries that slick, plastic look. A gritty and violent story like this deserved a lot more of a film-like grainy look in my opinion. Regardless, this seems to be a faithful 1080p presentation without any noticeable video noise.
Two tracks are offered in Norwegian, 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 DTS-HD. Perhaps in order to accentuate the film's exaggerated tone, the score and the SFX, especially gunshots, are mixed much higher than dialogue, so be prepared to constantly turn the volume up and down. If you watch it late night, I recommend the 2.0 track where the levels are closer. Otherwise, both tracks are clear and crisp as the gunfights will give your sound system a low-budget thriller level workout. Just don't expect demo quality.
Making of Jackpot: An instantly disposable 4-minute EPK where the cast and crew give interviews while shooting the strip club scenes.
A Trailer for Jackpot, as well as Trailers from other Doppelganger releases are also included.
As a ridiculously over-the-top, ultraviolent dark comedy, Jackpot shows a lot of promise stylistically. However, the story doesn't make a lick of sense.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com