Jackdaw REVIEW – Refreshingly Bold | Fantastic Fest 2023

This is how you pace an action thriller.


When we first meet our action protagonist Jack Dawson (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), he’s on a canoe forging with determination through choppy waters, in search of a package that he’s been hired to retrieve. Things get even more dicey when he’s pursued by individuals on jet skis, and after he finally shakes them off, he makes it home only to discover his brother Simon (Leon Harrop) has been taken. Simon is the reason why Jack took the job in the first place. He didn’t want to, but after his mom’s death, Simon became his sole responsibility, and he needed the money for him. Taking on this job brings him back into the clutches of the criminal underworld, a world he left behind when he joined the army.

The film moves with a certain charge, with propulsive, EDM beats taking us from one action sequence to the next. Jackson-Cohen does well as Jack – he’s brooding and tortured, but also a real softie. He moves with a single-minded focus from scene to scene, and there’s never a dull moment, which speaks to how tightly structured the film is. However, unlike mythological action heroes like John Wick or Ethan Hunt, Jack is clearly human and fallible. As the film unfolds, we get to see Jack’s exhaustion get the best of him, and even start to impact his decision-making skills. While it’s fun to watch movies from the John Wick and Mission Impossible franchises for the hyperbole, it’s really refreshing to have a character at the centre of an action movie feel like a real person.

As Jack tries to figure out who’s taken his brother, he runs into a number of allies. One such ally is former sweetheart Bo (Jenna Coleman), who’s part of a biker gang. Coleman is charming as always, but she also shows us Bo’s vulnerabilities underneath that cool biker chick persona. While she’s happy to see Jack, she also feels betrayed by him, since he ghosted her when he suddenly enlisted in the army. Why did he do it, and leave behind everyone who cared for him? Jackson-Cohen and Coleman have great chemistry together, which is no surprise as they played husband and wife in the TV series Wilderness. Considering how different their characters in Jackdaw are compared to Wilderness, this is a testament to their acting range and abilities.

sBut there’s no time for idle chit-chat, a Silas (Joe Blakemore) – the man who hired him – is hot on his tail, eager to reclaim the bounty he hired him to steal. Blakemore is absolutely entertaining as Silas. He’s chewing scenery every chance he gets, and his villainy reminded me of David Thewlis’ Einon from the movie Dragonheart – a deep cut reference, I know. There’s even moments where he’s going all Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in The Shining.

While Jackdaw is a mix of family drama and gangster flick, it also takes the time to be funny. There are some great comedic moments in the movie, mainly from Thomas Turgoose’s Craig, who is clearly the heart of the film. I must also wax lyrical about the film’s cinematography. The night scenes are gorgeously well-lit, and the visuals evoke this otherworldly vibe, which makes sense as director Jaime Childs has helmed projects like His Dark Materials and Doctor Who. It’s striking then when we move from this fever dream to the harsh rays of daylight, bringing Jack face to face with what he’s been running from his whole life.

Review screener provided.

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It's rare to get an action movie that understands that creating tension doesn't mean mindless brutality. With fantastic action set pieces and rich characterisation, Jackdaw is one of the more interesting action flicks you'll see this year.