Wagering War

21 August 2012 | 7:00 am | Guy Davis

"[Jo Nesbo] has an even more twisted sense of humour than I do. There were some really wicked ideas that came from Jo that we thought ‘Okay, we just can’t do this – it’s just too much.’"

Scandinavian crime writers are all the rage of late, with the likes of Henning Mankell's Wallander mysteries and the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (featuring Lisbeth Salander, aka The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) merely the tip of a literary iceberg, enthralling readers the world over. One rising star in this firmament is Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, best known for penning the adventures of hard-drinking but brilliant police detective Harry Hole.

With the film version of his novel, Headhunters, a recent success and Martin Scorsese reportedly onboard to direct an adaptation of his thriller, The Snowman, Nesbo's work has become much sought after by producers. He's been picky, though, which is why Norwegian filmmaker Magnus Martens considers himself fortunate to have had the opportunity to bring Nesbo's blackly comic crime caper, Jackpot, to the screen.

“The producer that I usually work with was one of the guys who was basically nagging him about the rights,” says Martens. “I think at one point Jo just gave up and said 'Okay, here is the story. This is not a book; this is something that I want to be a film.' That's how I got involved in it, because I was already working with that producer. We got that story from Jo and developed it from there. What came from Jo was a combination of a script and a short story.”

Reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects and Fargo in its tricky chronology and deft juggling of gallows humour and crime-yarn tension, Jackpot sees its four main characters bound together by a shared football bet that makes them all instantly rich. Unfortunately, some decide that being richer is better than just being rich and hope to increase their cut of the winnings by bumping off the other members of the syndicate. And that's when things start getting nasty.

Martens worked on turning Nesbo's novella into a screenplay, regularly seeking input from the novelist. “Every time I had a new version of the script I sat down with him and hashed out new ideas and just took his notes. Obviously I tried to use him as much as I could. He gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted to do with the story. There were certain elements that were very important for him but in general he just gave me total freedom.”

Considering Jackpot features a bloody shootout in a porn shop, Martens seems to have made the most of that freedom. He admits with a laugh, however, that Nesbo supplied a few ideas that went beyond the pale. “He has an even more twisted sense of humour than I do. There were some really wicked ideas that came from Jo that we thought 'Okay, we just can't do this – it's just too much.'” He admits that the sex-shop shootout was Nesbo's brainchild: “I think that was the most important thing he wanted to see!”

Martens admits that comedy is more his strong suit. “I think it's interesting to have comedy as a base and try to bring something else in the mix, be it thriller or crime or whatever. My mission [with Jackpot] was to try and find a balance between the violence and the comedy which was fucking hard to do!”

Jackpot is screening in selected cinemas now.