The Tribeca Film Festival covers a wide variety of genres, styles, visions and topics, but if you’re looking for material that veers on the side of the extreme, packed with action, blood and a ton of suspense, Cinemania is the program for you. This year we’ve got seven films claiming Cinemania glory and, so far, two do the title justice – Rat King and Jackpot.
In Rat King, Jury (Max Ovaska) may not be the most popular kid at school, but the gym teacher is fairly lenient when it comes to his lack of athleticism, he's got a girlfriend and a very loving mother at home. Jury’s only real problem is that his gaming addiction consumes his life. When his longtime teammates in a first person shooter game go offline and never return, Jury's devastated and essentially debilitated by the grief.
Eventually one player does resurface, Niki (Julius Lavonen). Niki informs Jury that another player didn't just go offline; he's dead. They're involved in a computer game that forces them to complete tasks. If they opt to quit, they become the task. His curiosity proves to be too powerful and Jury investigates, logging onto the game and acquiring the handle "Rat King." With Niki's help, Jury attempts to complete his tasks and not die.
Clearly this concept is a little out there and while Rat King is littered with plot holes and believability issues, there's no denying that the film is a ton of fun. Ovaska makes for a pitch-perfect lovable nerd, earning both your sympathy and pity. While not a gamer, it's still easy to recognize what Jury's feeling when the friends he's never even met in real life abandon him and that makes Niki's arrival all the more thrilling.
Niki opens up the plot in a ton of ways, but that also causes Rat King to lose its footing quite a bit. The game is rather rudimentary, as is it's interface, but still, logic questions crop up and ultimately go unanswered. Without spoiling anything, there's also an issue with a scheme the duo cooks up. When you see the film, it's rather hard to miss. Then again, perhaps that scheme is somewhat successful because, at times, it is hard to track certain players. Apologies for the vague description, but it must continue, as another major downfall for Rat King is that the villain's motives are totally unjustifiable.
But still, Rat King is one of those instances where the plot is so wildly out of control it makes it fun. While writer-director Petri Kotwica doesn't have a firm grasp on the story details in the script, it's evident that he does when it comes to bringing his idea to life. The elements he does have a handle on are bold and prominent, the set and costume design enhances the tone of the film tenfold and Kotwica gets stellar performances from his leads.
Perhaps the goal of Rat King is to disorient the viewer a little bit, so the question is, where will you fall on that spectrum come the credits? Personally, sacrificing some understanding for an enjoyable experience made for a good deal.
In Jackpot, when three young guys run into a Pink Heave, they're not met by a team of strippers looking to make their day, rather a barrage of bullets. After the massacre, the lone survivor, Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum), is picked up by officer Solør (Henrik Mestad) and put through an extensive interrogation. Why was Oscar the only one to make it out of the gunfight alive? It's a long story and begins with a $1.7 million-winning soccer bet.
Oscar earns an honest living, owning a factory that spits out fake, mini Christmas trees. His employees? Ex-cons. When a particularly violent new employee, Billy (Arthur Berning), and two longtime workers, Thor (Mads Ousdal) and Dan (Andreas Cappelen), sucker Oscar into joining their can't-lose betting scheme and convince him to by the ticket, the guys wind up ridiculously rich, but ridiculously deadly, too. A little head-chopping here, a thrown hammer there and the guys' monumental win turns into a bloody nightmare, especially for Oscar.
Director and co-writer Magnus Martens knows exactly what kind of film he wants to make and goes through with it full force. This is evident right from the start of Jackpot, which kicks off quite strong with a brief introduction to the main players, Oscar and Solør, and then an equally brief deadly gun battle. Once the firefight ceases, we really get a taste of the tone of the film courtesy of strikingly bold titles, a kitschy spy-like tune and close-ups of the causalities, bodies drenched in bright red blood and sex toys strewn about.
The film’s brutally amusing nature is quite successful all the way through courtesy of a solid script and top-notch editing. It constantly hops back and forth between the past, the events leading up to Oscar's arrest, and the present, Solør's interrogation, both segments always building off one another, keeping the material totally digestible. Solør also proves to be a major asset to the audience as, while he is certainly a cliché cop, he’s our vessel to understanding the story. We’re discovering the details right along with him.
As for Oscar, he makes for an excellent protagonist. Hellum presents him as a person who's undeniably innocent and means no harm, earning your compassion right away, but he's also got a nice arc, turning into someone who'll put his foot down every now and then. However, the whole way through Oscar still maintains a rather bumbling persona that helps keep the material light, which is wholly necessary, as Jackpot can get quite violent.
Oscar’s cohorts are colorful to say the least. While Billy is certainly the more volatile of the bunch, they’re really all ticking time bombs. They’re capable of just about anything and while their behavior certainly fits their character descriptions, there action still maintains a fun shock value.
That really is the key to Jackpot, sustaining the ruthlessness and the humor at the same time, and it’s not easy. However, Martens not only nails the balance in his script, but the combination is further enhanced by timely editing, good performances and wildly appropriate music. Editor Jon Endre Mørk keeps the film moving at a swift pace, something that makes the dueling time zones transition fluidly and highlights the piece's comedic tone. Magnus Beite’s music cues are spot on, either pumping a portion of the film full of adrenalin or enhancing a laugh.
Jackpot’s only shortcoming is that Martens loses some control over the plot of the film towards the end. The story is rather absurd all the way through, but it totally works with the film’s tone. However, when Jackpot does hit the point where it’s time for a revelation, things get a bit too out of hand and the details are lost in the action. While this does make for a rather unconvincing ending, Jackpot’s been a bloody blast up until this point and this misstep is certainly nowhere near enough to tarnish that.