Running Time: 97 mins
UK Distributor: Vertigo Releasing
UK Release Date: 26 January 2024
WHO’S IN JACKDAW?
Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jenna Coleman, Thomas Turgoose, Rory McCann, Allan Mustafa, Vivienne Acheampong, Joe Blakemore, Leon Harrop, Austin Haynes
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Jamie Childs (director, writer, producer), Kate Glover, Callum Grant and Sébastien Raybaud (producers), Damon Baxter and Si Begg (composers), Will Baldy (cinematographer), David Fisher (editor)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
An army veteran (Jackson-Cohen) accepts a dangerous criminal job…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON JACKDAW?
The industrial heartland of North-East England doesn’t sound like the most obvious backdrop for a gritty action-thriller straight out of the early 2000s, but Jackdaw, the throwback genre flick from writer-director Jamie Childs – making his feature debut after working on TV shows like Doctor Who, His Dark Materials and The Sandman – against all odds manages to turn the likes of Hartlepool into a fierce and menacing action movie location.
It is perhaps the most stand-out element of an otherwise middling effort which, despite plenty of ambition and early promise, ultimately loses its balance due to one too many convolutions.
The basic central premise is that of Jack Dawson (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a former motocross champion who’s just returned from serving overseas, accepting an offer from local crime boss Silas (Joe Blakemore) to pick up a mysterious package in the North Sea, in return for easy cash to support him and his brother Simon (Leon Harrop), who has Down Syndrome. However, Jack quickly discovers that Silas has no intention of paying him, which leads to him coming home and finding that Simon has been kidnapped, forcing Jack to zip across the county over one long night in order to rescue his brother.
With its seemingly simple plot and grimy cinematography, not to mention plenty of stunts involving motocross bikes as well as a thumping techno soundtrack that plays all throughout, Jackdaw feels like something that could easily have existed in 2002, right around the same time as other sports-themed action films like xXx or Extreme Ops or even that awful Rollerball remake. However, Jackdaw is nowhere near as intolerable as some of those, particularly during its first act where, in early sequences set in the North Sea and at a petrol station, you can feel the tension being amped up to the right amount. It’s in moments like these when you can feel the potential of this filmmaker to make something that can, if it so chooses, put the audience in just as stressful a situation as the lead character, as well as maintaining a grounded nature that keeps it from going too far into overblown ridiculousness.
However, not too long after, the film just gets sillier and sillier, playing into that same level of overtly masculine ridiculousness as, say, xXx did back in the day. Many of the action sequences lack the tension that was undoubtedly present in earlier ones, because they’re bogged down by increasingly convoluted plot points involving murderous gangsters and estranged family members, enough to where after a while you’re more focused on piecing them all together in your head rather than getting invested in the stuff that’s actually happening on the screen. Childs’ script unnecessarily overcomplicates itself, which is a shame because, again, his direction shows plenty of stylistic promise, and even dips itself into gloriously demented territory every now and then, including a chase from a silhouetted assailant on horseback wielding a shotgun. Unfortunately, rather than being impressed by this heightened imagery, you’re finding it more and more difficult to buy some of the twists and turns involving certain characters, which among other things make how they were acting up to that point make very little sense in this supposedly grounded environment.
Speaking of the characters, it’s a mixed bag overall. There are some who match the overall tone perfectly fine, like Jenna Coleman as a former flame of the main character who helps him out every now and then, and of course Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s brooding performance is in keeping with the aesthetic, even if “brooding” is really the only adjective one can use to describe his character. But then, there are some who feel as though they’ve wandered in from a completely different movie, particularly Thomas Turgoose who plays a comic relief raver who tags along for most of the rest of the film, and a weird Freddie Mercury-looking henchman who’s caught in the lightest bit of on-screen BDSM since the Fifty Shades trilogy.
None are more out of place, however, than the film’s central villain Silas, played with long bleached hair by Joe Blakemore who gives a performance that to simply call “over-the-top” would be putting it very mildly. His manic, bug-eyed expressions and gleeful psychotic cackling are less Joker and more Daffy Duck, for this character is an utter cartoon from the moment he first appears. Not the good kind, though, for while Blakemore is clearly having a blast in this role, the character himself is more annoying than he is intimidating, especially in how this person absolutely does not fit into this particular story, in a world that sets itself up from the beginning as being far removed from that kind of ridiculousness.
Not for lack of trying, Jackdaw simply cannot escape the overblown nature of action-thrillers from a bygone era, which is a shame because there is great potential for this kind of filmmaking that is largely squandered on convoluted plotting, nonsensical characters, and action where half the time you’re too confused to care.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Jackdaw is a middling action-thriller that calls back to similar over-the-top movies from 2002, but not in a very good way because although debut feature filmmaker Jamie Childs shows promise in early gritty sequences, his narrative can’t help but become more and more ridiculously convoluted with characters who makes less and less sense within this particular universe.