Set 1 (2012)
Cast: Guy Pearce, Marta Dusseldorp, Aaron Pedersen, Roy Billing…
MPAA Rating: NR – Contains strong language, violence, graphic images, nudity, and sexual situations.
1 Disc, 2 feature-length
Genre(s): Australian noir, crime drama, private investigator, suspense/thriller
Reviewed by Larry Jung
The Jack Irish TV-movies pretty much follow the crime-thriller and noir film genre. I enjoy these kinds of films, and this was what initially attracted me to watching BAD DEBTS and BLACK TIDE. I was also interested because the stories are set in contemporary Melbourne, Australia. I had just finished watching THE MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES set in 1928 Melbourne and enjoyed the setting. Instead of being picturesque like in the THE MISS FISHER TV episodes, I was surprised how much the rundown sections of contemporary Melbourne look like the rundown, crime ridden neighborhoods of Oakland, CA, right down to the pervasive graffiti. Being a port town, Melbourne is a natural setting for illegal activity like drugs, smuggling, prostitution, bribery, blackmail, pornography, and big-time gambling. Corruption reaches from the slums to the mansions, from petty criminals to powerful politicians. But Melbourne doesn’t have the atmosphere and edge to be more than just a location for the story. I never got an overall sense of place.
What little character there is comes from the Fitzroy Youth Club. The “youth” are several retired guys who hang out at the King of Prussia pub in the Fitzroy suburb of Melbourne. They reminisce about the now defunked Fitzroy football team. On the TV behind the bar they watch old football matches that were recorded on VHS tape. They talk endlessly about how much better times were back then and how great a player Jack Irish’s father was, a father Jack never knew.
The character of Jack Irish also follows the noir genre with the damaged soul who, as a private investigator, is a man of honor and a reluctant crusader. He is a loner, but loyal to Harry Strang and Cam Delray, who have an honor-among-thieves relationship with Jack. As played by Guy Pearce, Jack Irish has come to terms with his guilt and grief, at least enough to be a debt collector for Strang. Pearce, thankfully, doesn’t play Irish as a wise-cracking tough-guy with a big chip on his shoulder. Irish’s drinking and gambling is underplayed. But I didn’t think Pearce’s performance was strong enough to take the two movies from competent to exceptional.
Of course there is the femme fatale, who seduces the hero and leads him into danger for her own gain. The femme fatale is played by Marta Dusseldorp. Though Dusseldorp and Pearce might look good together on screen, they lacked any chemistry in large part because her performance lacks any spark or mystery. Instead of having sympathy for their relationship (supposedly Jack’s first relationship with a woman after his wife’s death), I would have been happy if Dusseldorp’s character never went beyond passing information back and forth with Jack.
That being said about Melbourne, Pearce, and Dusseldorp, the stories are solid crime-thrillers with off-beat, colorful minor characters often outshining the two main stars. I recommend BLACK TIDE as the better of the first two Jack Irish movies. The story is tighter and faster paced, taking the burden off Guy Pearce’s performance to carry the movie.