Judge Clark Douglas wonders if Jack Irish is related to Johnny English.
Based on the award-winning book series.
I haven't read Australian crime writer Peter Temple's Jack Irish novels, but evidently they're fairly popular in his native country. Though the list of book and television series about Guys Who Investigate Things is endless, Irish manages to be a rather unique character in a couple of ways. First, he's not a private investigator or police detective, but rather a former cop turned debt collector/attorney/professional gambler who somehow manages to find himself forced to solve complex mysteries. Convoluted, sure, but points for originality. Also, um, he's Australian, and it's not as if most American viewers have been exposed to a huge number of Australian crime dramas this side of Animal Kingdom.
It's hard to say at the moment whether Jack Irish is really an ongoing television series or simply a limited run of made-for-television movies. The first two Jack Irish movies were produced around the same time and were aired in Australia over the course of two consecutive weeks, two more movies are currently being produced and there are plans to make a fifth one once Temple finishes his fifth novel in the series. Will the folks involved with the series then start writing original teleplays for the character, or will the movies only be churned out at the same pace as Temple's books? I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. What matters is that the first two films presented in this collection—Bad Debts and Black Tide—are both engaging, entertaining crime dramas.
The opening moments of Bad Debts take the viewer on quite a roller coaster ride. Within one minute, we've met both Jack Irish (Guy Pearce, Memento) and his lovely wife. Within two minutes, Jack is looking at his wife's bloody corpse in horror (she's been shot by a mentally unstable petty criminal with a grudge against Irish). Within three minutes, we're watching an opening credits sequence set to the strains of Nick Cave's ominous "Red Right Hand." "Gracious," I muttered, "This thing seems dead-set on being even bleaker than Wallander."
However, the opening is a bit misleading. Yes, it's a merciless sequence, but it's there to establish a defining moment in the character's past, not the overall tone of the show. Both films offered in this collection are often funny, frisky affairs. Observing Irish and his associates engage in less-than-reputable gambling shenanigans at the racetrack is a lot of fun, and there's plenty of playful humor throughout the proceedings (such as a scene in which one character contemplates a case in the middle of a passionate lovemaking session and has a mental breakthrough mid-climax—yes, both the sex and violence is on the R-rated side, so be forewarned in case you thought this was a CBS-style television show).
Though much of the program will feel familiar to anybody who's watched a crime drama before (particularly British crime drama—the early seasons of Murphy's Law spring to mind as an immediate comparison), the plotting is tight and engaging. Each film runs just north of 100 minutes, which gives both stories plenty of breathing room without permitting them to become bloated. The primary reason to watch the show is Pierce, who seems completely in his element as the rumpled title character. Permitted to use his native accent (something he doesn't get to do nearly often enough), Pearce seems even more vibrant and charismatic than ever. He's always been a fine actor, but he seems to be getting better and better with age.
Jack Irish: Series 1 (Blu-ray) has received a strong 1080p/1.78:1 transfer. I was worried when I popped in the disc, as there's a promo for other Acorn Blu-ray sets that looks absolutely horrible. Thankfully, once the program actually featured on this disc begins, things look top-notch. Detail is strong throughout, depth is impressive, blacks are deep and inky. The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio track is solid, delivering clean dialogue and occasionally immersive sound design. Supplements are limited to a 17-minute featurette on the making of "Black Tide" and a DVD copy.
It's not the very best show of its type, but Jack Irish is appealing stuff built around a strong Pierce performance. Check it out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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