Jackpot: A very northern crime caper
Fans of Scandinavian crime stories have a great year ahead of them as director Magnus Martens brings one of the first of many Jo Nesbø books to the big screen with the darkly comic Jackpot.
Magnus Martens truly hit the jackpot when he was handed a story from Headhunters scribe Jo Nesbø to turn into a movie. “It was a story that Nesbø wrote intending it to just be a film,” says Martens. “It was a very cool premise and a very cool plot. The characters are great and obviously with it being a Jo Nesbø story there is a lot of humour.”
It’s not often in interviews that a director eulogises the writer, but then not many writers have had such a global impact as Nesbø. His series of books about hard-nosed detective Harry Hole – 9 so far – fly off the shelves faster than Harry Potter could say Expelliarmus. For younger readers he has come up with the Doktor Proktor series and then there are the stand-alone novels of which Headhunters is the most famous.
The New York Times mentions Nesbø in the same breath as Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch, and Martin Scorsese is adapting his novel The Snowman for screen. It’s no surprise heavyweight Americans are sniffing around Scandinavian talent as Nesbø is at the forefront of the one crime scene that everyone is happy to be caught up in.
Martens calls Nesbø the ideal collaborator: “I didn’t work that much with him. I came to him from time to time with what I’d done. In a way, I sort of used him as a mentor. So it’s really my script and having a smart, nice and cool guy like him as a mentor was really good.”
Having waxed lyrical about Nesbo, Martens sees the spotlight turn back onto him.He’s taken Nesbø’s idea and infused it with the black comedy of the Coen Brothers. There is even a tribute to the wood chipper scene in Fargo and Jackpot lead actor Kyrre Hellum bears a striking resemblance to Steve Buscemi. “Those brothers, they will always be there,” admits the 39-year-old director. “There is so much I like about them, mostly the comedy, so I guess the influence would always be there. Fargo is probably my favourite, but of the more recent ones, I love Burn After Reading, even though I know people hate it, and of course there is The Big Lebowski.”
Because the flashback structure of Jackpot’s narrative starts with Oscar Svendson (Hellum) being questioned by a detective (Henrik Mestad) about his involvement in a sports betting crime syndicate and how he came to be lying down in a pool of blood in a sex shop, shotgun in hand, dead bodies all around, comparisons are bound to be made with The Usual Suspects.
“Filming those first few days, no matter where you turned you had naked breasts.”
“We tried to stay away from Keyser Söze,” says the Oslo based director. “We knew it was there and that this would come up. Doing a story like this, with a twist and everything, you are going to end up there regardless. That’s why I shot different endings so I knew I had different possibilities in the editing room.”
As for the sex shop in the movie, Martens reveals, “It’s based on a place in the world that was mythical when I was younger. It was on the Swedish side of the border. Sweden was where you went to buy booze, firecrackers and everything and that is where you went to buy porn. It was a mythical place, but I never went there because I grew up on the west coast, just south of Bergen. So we found an abandoned petrol station and we bought, I don’t know, how many thousand of porn magazines and stuff from a dealer in Sweden who went bankrupt so we got everything really cheap. It was really frustrating filming there the first few days as no matter where you turned you had naked breasts and whatever in your face. It was impossible to concentrate.”
At the end of the shoot the filmmakers realised that they had their own mystery to solve: “We discovered that there were five dildos missing. We just don’t know where they went.”
Another big influence on Marten’s film is Shallow Grave. Danny Boyle’s film came out in 1994, when the Norwegian was attending the London Film School. He reminisces, “Obviously England at the beginning of the 90s, you had the whole Blur and Oasis thing, the music was amazing and it was a lot of fun.”
Another great love is British football. His 2003 feature debut United focused on a couple whose relationship revolved around a mutual love of Manchester United and in Jackpot the thugs are betting on football matches. It seems like a fair exchange, football for crime stories.
Jackpot is released in UK cinemas on 10h August 2012.
Words: Kaleem Aftab