Review: ‘Jackdaw’ is a moody, gangster-adjacent crime thriller

The gruff, broken leading man on a revenge rampage genre has had its fair share of ups and downs across film history. You’ve got the highlights with films like Shane Meadows’ grueling Dead Man’s Shoes come to mind, and then the lowlights where bland cliche reigns; any post-2010 Liam Neeson action flick fits the bill here. Jamie Childs’ feature debut Jackdaw sits plum in the middle of that spectrum, as his moody gangster-adjacent Smoggie crime thriller doesn’t quite do enough to accommodate for the retreading of familiar action beats but delivers a steady stream of satisfying thrills. 

The story of Jackdaw

Set across a night in Teesside, the electric hue of the power plant never far from the background, Jack Dawson (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Invisible Man) must scrap his way through the criminal underworld to rescue his younger brother Simon (Leon Harrop). An army veteran and former motocross champion under the pseudonym Jackdaw, Jack returns to his native beans-on-toast homeland to care for his brother. Struggling for cash, he has to make a final run for gangster wannabe Silas (Joe Blakemore). 

Not one to let his cast off easily, it seems, Childs writes that the mysterious illegal drop is in the freezing cold depths of the North Sea. The drop, not without its eccentric difficulties, including Jack being chased by a horse-riding antagonist, goes well. However, a withheld payment and a now missing brother leads Jack to chase down Silas, with help from old flame Mo (Jenna Coleman) and the gormless Craig (Thomas Turgoose), who latches onto Jack’s mission.

A thumping EDM-infused score from Deadly Avenger and Si Begg propels Jackdaw forward alongside cinematographer Will Baldy’s azure-tinged visuals. These work in tandem together, helping the picture almost become reminiscent of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, with its unconventional musical choices, helmeted protagonist, and lurid look backdropped against a location that is tinged with beauty and danger. 

Oliver Jackson-Cohen in Jackdaw, a film by Jamie Childs. Image courtesy of Vertigo Releasing.

Childs directs Jackdaw in a relatively assured fashion

Childs, a director with some serious television credits in science fiction (The Sandman and Doctor Who), might not quite seem the type to make this kind of grisly hardened thriller, but it works as he directs it in a relatively assured fashion, the confidence of a director with years of television experience behind him. For all that confidence, there is a sense that this may have been better suited as a two-part drama than a feature film, as there is a lull in the middle that feels primed for the film to start again as an episode two. 

Regardless, Childs’ direction here is still excellent, with action that excites and feels more tangible than many bigger-budget thrillers of this ilk. A brief, violent altercation with a police officer is not just oddly funny – Childs’ writing has levity in abundance – but he finds space in the fracas to help reinforce the humanity of the Jack character. 

Oliver Jackson-Cohen is charismatic as Jack in Jackdaw

Donned for most of the film in his biker’s helmet, Oliver Jackson-Cohen finds a good chunk of charisma coming through as Jack. He isn’t a Denzel Washington-type, a magnanimous old-school protagonist ready to sweep the audience off their feet. Instead, he has the common sense of an everyman toughened by his past, grounding this story in its working-class roots. The London-born actor has a pretty decent Boro twang on him, but less can be said about Jenna Coleman’s attempts, which fluctuate between posh northern and a Cheryl Cole imitation. 

Blakemore’s villain Silas is hamming it like he’s jazzed up on multiple lines of cocaine, of which there is little doubt left to the audience that the character isn’t, what with his wide pinprick eyes and flared nostrils. 

Childs’ script is stuffed with fun little quirks and typically northern insult humor that help to add levity to a relatively dark script. Even though it doesn’t add anything groundbreaking to the genre, Jackdaw is a thrilling escape from the hedonistic world we often find ourselves in.

Jackdaw is playing in theaters on January 26th.

You can watch Jackdaw’s official trailer here. Are you interested in seeing the movie? Join the conversation by connecting with us on X @MoviesWeTexted or leaving a comment below.

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