Oscar Svendson awakens to find himself surrounded by corpses, and with a gun pointed at him. The action-comedy tells a bloody story of murder and betrayal set in motion when a group of friends win the lottery.
Jo Nesbo's series of wildly popular crime novels featuring the detective Harry Hole have made the author a bestseller all across the Western world, but it's two other works that will introduce the Norwegian author to American film audiences: "Jackpot," a crime comedy based on a story Nesbo wrote, has just made its international premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and "Headhunters," a thriller about an art thief on the run, opens in theaters on Friday.
At the center of the action in "Jackpot" is Oscar, the manager at a plant where they hire ex-cons, three of whom convince him to go in with them on a soccer pool. When they improbably pick the outcomes of a dozen matches, they find themselves in possession of a slip of paper worth 1.7 million kroner.
The men with whom Oscar has cast his lot—Thor, Billy and Tresko—are such dirt bags that by the time he gets back from a celebratory beer run, one of them is dead. From there, things spiral out of control, as one thing or another stands between them and their prize.
Magnus Martens, who adapted and directed "Jackpot," concedes that the film, like so many others in the genre, owes a great structural debt to "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," as it features a group of men sitting on a windfall who quickly realize they don’t trust each other.
"The scenes I found inspirational were the ones around the campfire; none of them want to sleep," says Martens, who watched the film while he was working on the script for "Jackpot."
"The characters in the film are dealing with problems that they have to solve," explains Martens. "'OK, we have a dead body, what's the best way to dispose of it?' So in a way, I treated everything in the same way. I guess it is darker than I intended it to be—it's bleak, that's probably a better word."
Macabre is perhaps better still than bleak, but in any event, the film maintains a comic undertone while still being grizzly, proudly wearing a love of Tarantino and the Coen brothers on its sleeve, but with enough originality to keep it fresh.
While "Jackpot" wraps up its festival run, first film adaptation of a Nesbo novel hits American theaters Friday, with the release of "Headhunters, ' a more traditional crime thriller, with a breakneck pace that zips around the twisting curves of a plot bristling with paranoia.
The film stars Aksel Hennie as Roger Brown, a man who confesses to over-compensating for his 5-foot-6 stature by giving his tall, sexy blonde wife everything she wants. He funds this opulence by stealing expensive works of art, using his day job to find his marks.
Brown is a master criminal living a lie, one who will go to any extremes to maintain the façade and keep his wife happy. So when an unknown enemy begins preying on Brown, slowly turning his life upside down, what develops is a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse. It's a whip-smart thriller that is bound to be remade in Hollywood.
But before "Headhunters" gets the Hollywood treatment, Martin Scorsese will be directing the first English-language adaptation of one of Nesbo's books, "The Snowman." The seventh book in the Harry Hole series, it's about a young boy who awakens on the day of the first snowfall to find his mother gone and her pink scarf tied around the neck of a snowman that mysteriously appeared in his front yard.
Nesbo's Scandinavian heritage and penchant for blockbuster crime novels have earned him lazy comparisons to Stieg Larsson, the man penned the global phenomenon "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Nesbo, not surprisingly, rejected the comparison long ago, and Martens agrees that it's unfair.
"It's hard to say, because obviously you have to compare with someone abroad, perhaps, and it's not a direct comparison, but Lee Childs, perhaps. Jo's stories are very full of action, twists and turns, fast pacing. But I guess Jo is dark and twisted in a way with a pretty good sense of humor."
Ultimately, when a guy's as talented and respected as Nesbo, he'll be the one that to whom others are compared.