Spoiler Warning

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Jack Falls

What Happens?

"My name is Jack Adleth, at least that's what it says on the death certificate. I used to be an undercover police officer, which means I've done some terrible things. Enough is enough. It's time to walk away." Our title character Jack (Simon Phillips) tells us in the opening scene, as he walks away, only to be shot and killed. Lucky for Jack, his friend Natasha (Olivia Hallinan) is close by and gets him to a local Amsterdam shady doctor, who agrees to help but warns of "complications" as his brain has been without oxygen for an undetermined amount of time. Jack gets stitched up and is given Natasha's volunteered blood and sleeps for three days.

Waking, Jack of course wants to figure out who killed him. Jack asks about concerns in London, and Natasha informs him that "Carter" has taken over from her own deceased father as the new crime boss. Jack doesn't need much to convince him that Carter is his only logical suspect. Natasha readily encourages his thinking. She reminds him that Carter (Alan Ford) has a hold on everything in the city, and the cops can't even reach him. "Yeah well, it's a good job I'm not a policeman anymore."

While Jack recovers, we meet "The Boss" (Tamar Hansen) who has heard that Jack is dead, and informs one of his men, Dominique (Peter Barrett) that "To lose a man is worth it, to keep the others in line. You do know that don't you?" They agree that Jack was one of their best, and attributes the loss to karma. Dominique expresses some concern about the ends taken to achieve their means and the Boss explains "Nobody cares about the means. That's why Jack did the job."  When the underling insists on a questioning tone, the Boss gets angry, reminding him that it was his job to keep Jack under control, adding "It all went tits up and I had to deal with it. End of!"

Jack takes some tests at the doctor's insistence. He's concerned that Jack may lose memory or hallucinate due to his brain missing oxygen while he was dead. While discussing this, Jack sees his dead partner Sid, (Neil Maskell) although he denies hallucinating to the doctor. Against the doctor's advisement, Jack insists on leaving. The doctor cautions him against exerting himself, as it could start him bleeding again. While making a call from a payphone Jack is interrupted by his dead girlfriend saying "You can't trust him." before vanishing. Jack drops the phone and walks away and we see the Boss speaking to the air. We then see the Boss speaking with a hit man, about Jack's body not being found, and then about Carter. The hitman insists that Jack is dead and refuses to help with Carter as it would be a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile, Jack quickly disregards the  doctor's caution in order to save a baby, whose stroller got away and fell in a river. The grateful parents want to celebrate his action but Jack insists that he wants no attention, asking the father to keep the cops away from him. Alone, his dead partner Sid again confronts him, saying "Saving babies now are ya? It won't be enough. Go back to London. Finish it. For me." Jack tells him to leave but Sid comes back with "You'd jump into a rat infested river for a total stranger, but you weren't there for me. I thought we had each other's backs"

Jack and Natasha spend some time "laying low." in Amsterdam. Jack tells her that he will take care of Carter as well as get her her "inheritance. He tells her that her father, the previous crime boss, had all kinds of money hidden away, which appears to be a surprise to her. They discuss Carter locking her out of the family business and Jack assures her that he trusts her and they return to London.

We find Carter giving orders to his dimwitted thugs, and then criticizing his young girlfriend, Xanthe's (Annie Cooper) shopping habits, shooting holes in one of her unworn dresses. She tells him to relax as they have more money than they can spend. Carter complains that since he controls everything things have gotten too easy. He "misses the fight." Xanthe manages to calm him down.

Jack and Natasha find an apartment to hide in, although unknown to them they're spotted entering it. They fight over the fact that Jack hasn't thanked her for saving his life and it comes out that she saw the hitman aiming at him, and shot him in the arm. Sid appears, cautioning Jack not to trust her. Natasha storms out and Jack's dead girlfriend Erin (Rita Ramnani) appears again, telling him he should leave, as nothing good will happen here. She calls him away from the door he's standing in front of just before some thugs shoot holes in it. He has enough notice to get the better of them, using an ice skate to incapacitate one.

He leaves the apartment and finds his old friend Carly (Jing Lusi) who lets him stay at her place. She tells him her brother has been looking for him. Natasha has showed up at Carter's in the meantime, attempting to claim her part of the business. Carter isn't very kindly disposed towards her, and tells her the only thing he can offer is a job as a prostitute if she wants it. She's enraged when she sees her father's ring on his finger. Carter has her escorted out.

Jack looks through photos of Erin, reading a note she wrote him telling him to leave his life behind and look for her, (if it's not too late, which of course, it is) and then dreaming of her. We then meet Detective Edwards (Dexter Fletcher) investigating the scene Jack made at Natasha's apartment. He has a glass sent out for fingerprinting and asks that the results be sent to him personally

Jack, back at Carly's is feeling bad about not saving Erin and Sid. Carly offers to stay with him, but Jack argues with his SId hallucination, which she assumes is directed at her and leaves. Detective Edwards runs into Carly at the bar where she bartends, and gets a call about the glass, confirming that the prints are Jack's.
Jack narrates that the only cop he ever knew that was "straight down the line" was Edwards, and we see Jack finding Edwards on a bus. Edwards reveals that he has trouble keeping secrets since he was assigned a partner to keep tabs on him. Jack tells Edwards that Carter had him killed, but Edwards doesn't believe it, saying Carter doesn't have it in him.

Officer Domique finds Natasha on the street and has her taken to the station despite her protests. Jack gets a gun and goes looking for Carter. Natasha is questioned about Jack's death. She insists that he was dead and has an outburst when she's needled about callin Carter Daddy. The Boss ends up taking over the interrogation telling her they need to talk about Jack.

Carter meanwhile has a meeting with the hitman that the Boss had seen earlier. Carter guesses that he has him to thank for taking out his "favorite undercover pig,"  (Jack) and thanks him, revealing that he didn't pay for it. Carter shows him a picture of his intended target (the Boss) and the hitman exclaims (Jesus, you two really don't like each other do ya?"

Jack continues trying to figure out what happened, while wresttling with his ghosts, while the Boss', Carter's and Natasha's interests start converging, leading after a few complications, to a showdown with a different ending than you might expect.

What About It?

Jack Falls is not a movie out to reinvent the wheel, but a movie that really enjoys being what it is; a straightforward revenge film drawing freely from the film noir play book. It clearly loves the genre it exists within and it shows. This is an independent film, written by Paul Tanter and directed by Alexander Williams and Paul Tanter (who also wrote the graphic novel it was based on.)Williams and Tanter do a great job giving us a film that is a treat to look at. Black and white never hurts a noirish story, and the consistent splashes of color throughout, give the film the effect of having it's own language. Rather than come across as heavy handed symbolism, the color serves more to keep us interested in the act of looking at this film. I'm sure, given it's graphic novel origins, and the black and white with splash of color filming, it will draw a comparison or two to "Sin City" but beyond those basic facts the comparison ends. This is a realistically shot film without gimmicky special effects (not that I'm knocking Sin City, mind you)  These characters are not "larger than life." In many ways they're smaller, so crippled by their own baggage.

Certainly a cast of top notch  actors helps here. Simon Phillips is a perfect Jack, although the nature of the character may minimize notice of Phillips' ability. This is not a Robert DeNiro gangster or a Clint Eastwood cop. Jack is as much Hamlet, as he is an action hero, right down to the "to be or not to be" dilemma. Constantly second guessing based on the advice of ghosts (or hallucinations) he is competent, but unsure. As Jack Falls is the third part of a story, (preceded by Jack Says, and Jack Said) we don't see what Jack has done exactly, but we know that he failed to save people that were vital to him and holds himself responsible. Jack has no great love for his life, yet he is comfortable with violence, and he is committed to settling scores as long as he is alive. Despite his guilt, he can't let someone killing him to go unanswered. This character comes across as extremely fallible. He's smart enough, but not always the smartest guy in the room, although he catches up eventually. He's a pretty straightforward guy, surrounded by devious plotters and manipulators. This creates great tension as it leaves him very vulnerable. While he typically listens to Erin, his "better angel," it's always possible that he'll side with Sid, the voice of retribution. He remains essentially good, his downfall is that he will never think of himself as "good enough" having already lost all that mattered to him.

You may notice that much of the cast is familiar from "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels," and "Snatch." Yet, the actors and the fact that it's British and concerned with crime are the limit of that comparison. Once again, it's a very straightforward story with it's own sense of style. Certainly Alan Ford's Carter will recall those roles, but that's only because he's so great at playing a humorously brutal crime boss. Here, you see those same elements, but he is a bit more humanized. Even in control of the city's crime, he is still in the shadow of his predescessor, Natasha's father, who was respected by everyone. He is certainly not happy about being perceived as an inferior substitute, but contents himself with the power and with Xanthe's company. Despite his very distinctive mannerism's Carter is very different from Snatch's "Brick top" and is as fallible in his own way as Jack is.

Olivia Hallman is perfect as Natasha, probably the most complicated character in the film. Her loyalties are son constantly conflicted, we wonder if she even knows her own agenda. She has her father's intimidating legacy to live up to and lacks the stomach or firepower to truly claim it herself. Jack is certainly useful in this regard, but she does have a fondness for him as well. Certain revelations cast doubt on her trustworthiness, but all the same, she has difficulty picking a side. Dexter Fletcher is the moral compass of the film, the only character that truly is what he claims to be. His performance is outstanding and he brings out the life in every scene he's in. Adam Deacon is good as Hogan one of Carter's thugs. Jason Flemyng has a terrific couple of scenes as Jack's brother Damien. Peter Barret, Jing Lusi, and Annie Cooper are also perfect in their parts.

Tamar Hansen is truly remarkable and his always (except for once) blue shirt is the most effective use of the color splash technique. He has a gravity to him, which turns out to be well warranted towards the end of the film. Easily the most formidable character, yet his flaw is that he overestimates his reach and misses the reach of others.

The color splash technique also makes a lot of sense for showing the Sid and Erin hallucinations, particularly when someone else living is in the room. We're able to see both what Jack sees and what really is without confusion. The deep and bright color choices also lead to some scenes that aside from any significance, are just lovely to look at. The bright green field, which Jack dreams of, set against a black and white background is arresting and many other scenes have that effect.

More than anything else, Jack Falls, from beginning to end, is a film about living with consequences and no character is untouched by the idea. The Boss' fixation with karma fits into this quite nicely and we see that regardless of how you try to balance the scales, you're going to pay a tab or two you'd rather avoid. This is a world where trusting anyone (except maybe Edwards) appears outright foolish. Jack and everyone around him live in lies as a matter of business, as he says at one point to his imagined psychiatrist "I never broke, I lie to everyone." Jack is a guy who saves a baby from drowning and immediately ridicules (via Sid) his own efforts, saying "It's not enough" Jack is hopless enough that it's doubtful he believe there is an "enough" The things he's done, or failed to do, can't be compensated for. Yet, the character does show an effort towards growth. In contrast with his quest for revenge, he ends up in a place where he can overlook at least one betrayal, and even suffer willingly for the person who betrayed him.

He has the voices of both Sid and Erin and he weighs them both, preferring Erin's which suggests that he's perhaps not completely lost. While there is some action in the film, it isn't an "action film."  The real confrontations are verbal and psychological, with the threat of the physical behind them. Tanter treats the violence as a natural part of the story, yet quickly dealt with on the way to the destination. We get that Jack can take care of himself very well, but if given a choice he would rather not have to. Even after his brother is killed, Jack is hesitant to kill another, although he is certainly not squeamish when he decides. Perhaps he would rather avoid more guilt to carry around.

I enjoyed the use of the traditional noir conventions; femme fatales, dirty cops, double crosses. Jack Falls doesn't hide it's influences but instead uses them logically, where they fit. As a result, we get an entertaining dark story. Watching it on it's own terms, without comparison to the films I mentioned, gives you a good solid story of a guy in way over his head, trying to lose as gracefully as possible, while hoping that karma will look the other way once in awhile. Being  a part of a series, I'm interested in seeing what went before, both in film, and the graphic novels, but it stands well on it's own, giving you everything you need to understand these characters. All in all it's a solid good time, very true to it's roots, and comfortable in its own skin. It's all the more impressive for being an independent with a first time director involved. I only hope we see more work from Williams and Tanter in the future.

This was just released, and DVD for "Jack Falls" is available from Amazon.uk here:

The film trilogy; Jack Says, Jack Said, and Jack Falls is here:

1 comment:

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