This was not to be. Jack Said is not your typical geezer gangster from the East End movie, it doesn’t need subtitled rhyming slang and it refuses to rely on the cliches of the overpopulated genre. Instead the team have created a film which, like its predecessor Jack Says, transcends the expectations one might have for a similarly themed film – this is British Noir at its best.
Simon Phillips plays Jack, an undercover cop deep in the pockets of a London firmwhose hierarchy is straining under the machinations of the Guv’nor’s daughter Natalie. Jack’s double life is strained further when he is contacted by an old mate and mutual firm acquaintance Nathan, played with relish by an excellent Danny Dyer. Jack’s superiors on the police force are feeding him half truths and the minimum of information, to preserve Jack’s cover and their own hidden motivations.
That’s as far as I’m going to go with the plot – it’s better if you know nothing about where the film is heading as it achieves the rare distinction of keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very end. It is by toying with the conventions of the genre that Tanter is able to surpass them and outfox us all. Pulp staples are present – the MacGuffin of a valuable suitcase with an unknown cargo, Jack baby-sitting Nathan’s pretty sister and their subsequent relationship which is fraught with danger, the machiavellian streak of the Guv’nor’s daughters, heirs to the firm and each with their own poisonous agendas. Gun fights, rival firms hailing from Eastern Europe, cops as bent as a box of curly wurlys and double and triple crosses all over the shop. It is testament to the film’s effectiveness that even in a genre so predicated with replica plot-lines we never know where this one will end up.
What made this film stand out for me was the most important ingredient of any film – its characters. Jack is our central figure and we walk the dangerous fine line of loyalty to both sides of the law with him. His burned-out narration (another classic pulp device) leads us through his tortured path, and we are drawn to him, and so too the outcome of the film. Through the use of flashback (and bearing in mind that Jack Says – the previous film – occurs after this one in the story’s chronology) we follow Jack as the pieces of the puzzle fall haphazardly into place, but this is not a passive experience. It is impossible to witness Jack’s criminal actions without questioning what lines he is prepared to cross as the stakes become more and more personal as Jack is played by both sides.
The two heirs to the firm are ostensibly angels and demons on troubled shoulders of the Guv’nor and while they serve their purpose in the story their true natures, revealed throughout the film, that have enormous implications to our hero and his success in bringing the firm to justice. Nathan and his sister Erin weave in and out of the heart of the story and not a moment is wasted, every moment affects all others. It takes remarkable skill to maintain the tension and interest with so much going on, but this film manages it.
I need to say something about the cast, who bring the monochrome panels of the original graphic novel to vivid life. Simon Phillips excels as Jack, imbuing his fractured character with a world weary resignation with a spark of hope that makes Jack an essential leading character. Phillips embodies the brutal side of Jack with as much power and force as he does the soulful, self-deprecating loner he is under his skin – it is a very tricky task to pull off but Phillips truly holds this film together. I was captivated by his performance, which could so easily have fallen into a dozen cliche traps, and I genuinely cared for him throughout and by journey’s end I was left heart in mouth at how the sun set on Jack Said.
Ashlie Walker returns as Natalie who, to put it mildly, makes Alistair Campbell seem beneficent and subservient. She has a mean streak the size of the grand canyon and is perfect as the female heir to a very male throne, sending sparks flying every scene, being menacing and exquisitely charming in equal measure. She keeps the eye of the audience, captivates and plays with them with an air of danger and darkness, suiting her damaged, divisive character.
Playing a crucial part in Jack’s story is Erin, Nathan’s sister and the accidental object of Jack’s affections. She is the heart Jack has lost in his time serving two masters and Rita Ramnani is luminous in the role. In the ensuing darkness of the story she is the light casting a long shadow behind every other person. It’s a difficult role but Ramnani engages our sympathy effortlessly.
There are too many other great performances to list here – everyone takes on the familiar roles and makes them their own. Julian Lee and David O’Hara are outstanding as the embittered police superiors Jack reports to. Their motivations and loyalty always masked and as we witness the unveiling of their true colours we can’t help but fear and loathe them. Rebecca Keatley, Terry Stone and even snooker legend Jimmy White turn in excellent performances, as do the rest of the cast.
Bob Komar was the DoP on the film, and one of the greatest features of the cinematography was spotting the influences contained in its 24 frames a second. The tracking shot of Nathan and Jack through the club and kitchens was pure Scorsese and there’s a scene in which Nathan makes a deal that has the camera whizzing 360 degrees around the characters which smacked of Michael Bay. Scorsese and Michael Bay in one film? That’s never happened before… The locations are shot very well, and the integrity of the film and the plot is always served perfectly by the lens.
Finally I must make mention of the script, which was adapted by Paul Tanter from his graphic novel. As I’ve said at the start of this review the success of the film lies in many hands, but none more so than Tanter’s script which has heart, wit and great momentum. Tanter avoids the obvious jokes, making the laughs and plot turns character based. He is able to keep the parallel narratives strong until their final, explosive dovetailing, and though we think we know where it will all end up, he keeps the twists coming, and earns every one. I urge you to seek out the three graphic novels (if only to continue the story in Jack Falls, the third story which picks up at the exact moment this film ends), and I’d advise you not to be swayed by the Sin City comparisons – this world is grounded in harsh reality, in the thick crowd where people choose to hide.
Let me be clear. British independent cinema is capable of extraordinary things. While its Oscar success precludes Slumdog Millionaire from being seen as a truly independent film in the eyes of many, not to make mention of the multi-cultural flavour and foundation crucial to its magnificent bounty, it remains a high point for our film industry. But this has the potential to overshadow other, worthy films. We have talents to match any other country in the world, with a rich heritage which belies the current state of affairs. What we need is more exposure, more funding and ultimately more celebration of the unique films made on these shores.
Jack Said is a perfect example of a British story told with panache and wit, unafraid to rub shoulders and stand tall in a crowded room of gangster films knowing that it has a strong foundation in its cast and crew whose craftsmanship is assured. The violence is sudden and brutal, the soundtrack sublime. The female characters elevated above mere cyphers for classic noir male angst. Simon Phillips is outstanding in the lead role and gives the film much of its gravitas. It is a modern British noir, and maintains its identity against a sea of similar fare. It’s well worth your time, so go out and support it.
The film has a limited cinema release and is out now. The DVD and Blu-ray will be out on the 5th of October