Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: JACKDAW Drives Through in This Fast and Compact Thriller
Oliver Jackson-Cohen stars in a noir action-thriller, directed by Jamie Childs.
In his debut feature, British director/ writer Jamie Childs, who previously worked primarily on TV (including shows like Vera, Doctor Who, His Dark Materials and The Sandman), sends the hero on an unusual therapy session in the form of a fast-paced and potentially fatal race through the dark coast.
Jack (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a man with inherently sad eyes and very few words to spare, agrees to make a simple pickup in the middle of the British North Sea. Unsurprisingly for everyone but Jack, the deal doesn’t go according to plan and he is double-crossed so badly that he spends the next 15 minutes of screen time evading people chasing him, stealing gas and getting smacked around, only to make it home and discover his younger brother is missing.
This sets Jack, an army vet and a former motocross legend, on a quest into the night that will be filled with more chases, depressive landscapes, an assortment of thugs, old acquaintances, raves and a surprising but not unwelcome amount of horse appearances.
The part of the plot that would typically be our first act is notably missing here; instead, we are thrown straight into the cold water (literally) of the story where a lot of crucial stuff has already happened before we even got here. It works incredibly well, too.
We get all the necessary Cliffs Notes later, but for the opening act the filmmakers opt for speed, rhythm and ragged breath with a very brief introduction, the suspense-filled pickup, and then a scene in which the hero escapes on his bike chased by a man on a horse. Someone probably should do a serious paper to examine why the inclusion of a horse in a frame immediately makes everything look more surreal, but it does set the tone for Childs’ film perfectly; it is both serious and self-aware, both macabre and darkly humorous.
Following the noir films and action thrillers of the past, Jackdaw makes use of its darkness in both literal and figurative ways. This odyssey through the haggard industrial landscape is filled with gloomy colors, and the brief flashes of light -- mostly in the form of sad-looking Christmas decorations -– only reinforce the overall feel of the world filled with contrasts and absurdities.
Jackdaw obviously also belongs to the great tradition of the 70s/ early 80s movies where heroes were one and the same with their means of transportation; here, Jack barely even takes off his helmet and doesn’t feel the need to say much while his bike engine roars for him. Oliver Jackson-Cohen is great for this, balancing the stoic demeanor with just a hint of a past tragedy that drives his character.
There is a brief bit where a bunch of villains are introduced, when it seems like the film is stalling a bit, simply because among the vast collection of British movie thugs, these particular thugs are just not very exciting (despite some pretty inspired wardrobe choices). The feeling is fleeting, though, as Jackdaw is still filled with what can be best described as cool moments: A man turns around and happens to be the great Rory McCann. There is a masterful shootout sequence that also involves a screwdriver and yet again, a horse. An actual duel of wills happens during another chase, and the two people simply stare at each other. Thomas Turgoose, the face of This is England (2006), appears and quickly steals the show.
The music gives the movie a pulse; a frantic beating of an adrenaline-pumped heart. This isn't a descent into madness or hell, though. As the story progresses, it becomes clear it is a ride though the hero's past that he cannot escape or outrun – as it often goes with therapy, one can only power through and hope to make it out alive.
The film enjoys its world premiere at Fantastic Fest 2023.