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Fantastic Fest 2023: Jackdaw Review

September 22, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Jackdaw Image Credit: Anton
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Fantastic Fest 2023: Jackdaw Review  

Directed by: Jamie Childs
Written by: Jamie Childs

Oliver Jackson-Cohen – Jack
Jenna Coleman – Bo
Thomas Turgoose – Craig
Joe Blackmore – Silas
Rory McCann – Armstrong
Leon Harrop – Simon
Vivienne Acheampong – Eddy

Image Credit: Anton

Running Time: 96 minutes
Not Rated

High-concept crime thrillers are one of my absolute catnip film genres. The format tends to be pretty straight-forward: take a compelling character in a desperate situation, have someone throw them a lifeline with a not-quite legal job to get them out of trouble, pull their legs out from under them mid-job and let the sparks fly. It’s a simple but effective formula that allows for tense, exciting films with lots of potential to explore the dark side of humanity.

That’s exactly what Jackdaw is going for. The feature directorial debut from Jamie Childs – best known for his work as a director on The Sandman, Doctor Who and other well-regarded TV projects – had its world premiere Fantastic Fest on Friday. It’s a well-made and effective thriller with just a bit of noir thrown in for flavoring. anchored by a strong performance from Oliver Jackson Cohen

Jackson-Cohen stars as Jack Dawson, a former motocross champion and army veteran who is in the middle of tough times. His mother has just passed away and he’s returned home to North East England in order to care for his younger brother Simon (Harrop). However, times are tough and they’re struggling to get by.

Help comes in the form of an old school friend named Silas (Blackmore), who is now living a life of crime. Silas offers Jack a job retrieving a package in the North Sea. However, once Jack has the package, he finds himself hunted in what appears to be a double-cross; to make matters worse, he returns home to find that Simon appears to have been kidnapped.

Jack hops on his motor bike and sets out to get some answers and find his brother, a path that takes him to old friends like his ex-girlfriend Bo (Coleman) and a crime boss from his past named Armstrong (McCann), not to mention the local law enforcement.

Jackdaw immediately distinguishes itself with its setting. North East England is not a region you see captured on film regularly, and it provides a respite from the usual highly urban environs you see in crime thrillers. Childs takes care to ground his story in the night-shrouded landscape of rural industry. It lends an intimacy to the story and makes the stakes seem closer and more personal than they often do in the dodgy parts of a big city; Childs is able to focus on the characters and let the world around them speak for itself.

True to its genre, the plot goes through a number of turns as it progresses. It isn’t twisty for the sake of the twist; no plot element seems out of left field, and Childs’ economical script makes sure that everything is in service of the story being told. Jack encounters a number of colorful characters on his quest, but none of them are there for extraneous purposes. There’s more than enough time to enjoy the throwback atmosphere without needing to fall into the trap of letting Jack’s journey meander or become indulgent.

Jack is our central character throughout Jackdaw, and the film’s weight falls directly on Jackson-Cohen’s shoulders to carry it through. He’s firmly up to the challenge, giving the character a terse charisma that comes across not unlike the rugged stars of the New Hollywood era. Much of the time he’s acting underneath a motorcycle helmet, and yet he is still able to let us in and see a character who we learn far more about from observation than exposition. It’s a very different performance than the ones most be familiar with him from, such as the tortured Luke in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and the villainous ex-boyfriend of The Invisible Man.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded with a fine cast. Jenna Coleman puts her inestimable charm on full display as Bo, showing a bit of her trademark Clara Oswald/Johanna Constantine swagger to great effect. Rory McCann and Joe Blackmore exude menace as the two gangsters of the tale. And Vivienne Acheampong – last seen by most as Lucienne in The Sandman, which Childs directed some episodes of – gets a quick but memorable scene as Jack’s old associate Eddy, who Jack goes to in need of help.

There are moments here or there when Jackdaw falters, to be sure. The more modest scale leads to a little bit of sag early in the second act when it should be revving up a bit more, and some of the late twists don’t land as effectively as they needed to. It’s also a very familiar story – man takes a last job to free himself from the darkness of his past – without adding much to the arc.

That said, it tells that story quite well with enough action and edge to keep things moving along at a steady clip. Jackson-Cohen makes Jack an easy character to want to follow along, and Childs shows plenty of promise in his first feature film as much a writer and director. Much like the motorbike its protagonist rides on, Jackdaw delivers when it counts, even if it occasionally needs a bit of revving.

Fantastic Fest runs from September 21st through the 29th.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Jamie Childs makes his feature debut as a writer-director a successful one with Jackdaw. Oliver Jackson-Cohen confidently leads a game cast through Childs' North East underworld, allowing the story to build in an efficient and often exciting fashion. While there are a number of elements here that will ring very familiar for crime thriller fans, it is Childs' assured direction, the performances and the evocative setting that allow the film to stand on its own as a solid entry into the genre.

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Fantastic Fest, Jackdaw, Jeremy Thomas