Jackdaw review | Oliver Jackson-Cohen beats up some bad guys

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Starring Oliver Jackson-Cohen, writer/director Jamie Childs’ action movie feels like a film from decades past – here’s our Jackdaw review.

Since the release of John Wick in 2014, the last ten years of action cinema have been filled with immaculate production design and intricate fight choreography. As exciting as modern action films can be, it feels like the focus is on being, above all else, polished. In that sense, director Jamie Childs’ Jackdaw feels like an action flick from times past.

That’s not only because the aesthetic of 90s’ rave culture is incorporated into the movie. It’s also because it doesn’t mind being a bit scrappy. Childs’ thriller, set in the North East of England, has a B-movie feel to it that’s refreshingly rough-around-the-edges, all while featuring some incredible acting talent. 

Oliver Jackson-Cohen, of The Invisible Man and The Haunting Of Hill House fame, stars as the film’s protagonist, Jack. A former Motocross champion and army veteran who’s just returned home, he finds that he’s in desperate need of some cash to support his younger brother. He makes some calls to some dodgy people, and arranges to pick up a mysterious package from the North Sea. Shot around Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, Childs does a great job of conveying how cold and unforgiving Jackdaw’s setting is in those opening scenes. Just watching Jackson-Cohen swimming around in the sea to get the package is enough to make you want to turn up the thermostat. 

Like any not-so-legal job, things quickly go wrong and Jack discovers that taking the job is going to have serious ramifications for his family. Over the course of one night, he sets out to correct his mistake – and deal with some bad people in the process. It’s not a unique premise, but it’s not meant to be. Jackdaw always gives the distinct impression that it wants to be a typical, classic action movie. Not a different or surprising one, but one that’s well executed.    

And well executed it is. It doesn’t get bogged down in the characters’ backstories or little details. The bad guys, including Joe Blakemore’s Silas and Rory McCann’s Armstrong, aren’t particularly well defined, but they get to give good, generic villain performances. McCann in particular is quietly threatening. Similarly, we know little about Jack, but Jackson-Cohen gives an emotive performance that makes him easy to empathise with and the film creates intrigue by revealing small morsels of information about him as it goes on. 

With Jackson-Cohen in a motorcycle helmet for a lot of the runtime, it would be easy for that to have a distancing effect on the audience, and make us wonder whether it’s really the actor doing the action scenes or his stunt double. Childs gets around that by having Jack’s helmet open most of the time. When there’s an action scene, we know it’s Jackson-Cohen doing it. The actor’s performance isn’t hampered by it, either, as he remains very expressive, and by extension sympathetic, throughout the film.

It’s a very different role for Jackson-Cohen to take on. He’s perhaps best recognised for his work in horror, from Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man to Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting anthology series. With him usually working in other genres – and often playing characters with a nasty streak – taking on the lead role in an action movie is an unexpected turn. It’s one that’s very welcome, though, and it would be good to see the actor get more leading roles off the back of Jackdaw.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of Jackdaw is how well-lit it is. With the entire film more or less taking place at night, and with various motorbike-focused action scenes to light, it’s simply a wonderful feeling to be able to see everything clearly – there’s none of that murkiness here that seems to be so common in recent years. 

Childs’ action flick sometimes suffers from being so unburdened by context or character development, and there are some actors who feel wasted in small, thin roles – Jenna Coleman as Jack’s former love interest, Bo, in particular. Nonetheless, Jackdaw is an enjoyable watch, and refreshing from the perspective that it aligns itself more with the action films of the 90s than typical modern fare.   

Jackdaw is released in UK cinemas on 26th January.

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