- Jackdaw is a simple yet intense thriller with gritty cinematography and well-developed characters, making it a riveting watch.
- Oliver Jackson-Cohen delivers a nuanced and emotionally vulnerable performance as the titular character, adding depth to the gripping tale.
- The film’s focus on a driven, pained protagonist, along with its effective editing and intense motorcycle sequences, keeps the tension high throughout.
Written and directed by Jamie Childs, Jackdaw is a simple, taut thriller with enough character development and tension to keep us riveted. The cinematography has a gritty feel and the film is well-lit despite the action taking place in the dark. The story is bare bones, but that’s certainly not a knock against the film at all. Rather, Jackdaw is exactly the kind of movie we’ve been missing — straightforward, intense, and well-acted. It never needed to have multiple, or even complex, storylines to be good, and Childs delivers an intriguing, electric story without overstuffing it. With Oliver Jackson-Cohen delivering a nuanced, vulnerable yet tough performance as the film’s title character, Jackdaw is a gripping tale that is well worth the price of admission.
Jack Dawson (Jackson-Cohen) is a veteran caring for his younger brother Simon (Leon Harrop). Struggling to make ends meet, Jack agrees to pick up a package in open water for a man called Silas (Joe Blakemore). But when the job is done, and he isn’t paid, Jack holds the package hostage until Silas delivers his end of the bargain. Jack returns home to find his brother missing and, assuming he’s been kidnapped, goes after Silas to get him back. But things take a turn when the true identity of the man behind the job is revealed, and Jack must reckon with his past and the pain that comes along with it.
Jackdaw has a lot to say — about the circumstances someone like Jack might grow up in and the life path that might take because of it, money over family and love, etc. — and it says it with clarity. The thriller succeeds where others have floundered thanks to its focus on a driven, pained character who carries his heart on his sleeve but isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to those he cares about. The film’s editing greatly impacts the pacing, which never lulls, raising the tension and making us sit up at every turn, our hearts racing while wondering what comes next on Jack’s journey. It’s effective and thrums with concentrated ferocity that is as exciting as it is heartbreaking.
Much of the film’s intensity stems from Jack driving his motorcycle; sometimes he’s running away from something, or running towards it — either way, it’s an excellent way to build the tension from one scene to the next. Jack doesn’t talk much, and we glean information from the characters he interacts with along the way, including Jenna Coleman’s Bo, who is helpful, fierce, and protective in her own way, and Thomas Turgoose’s Craig, who provides the film its levity. The supporting characters add to the story without overshadowing Jack, giving him (and us) what the story needs to continue moving forward.
But just because Jack isn’t spilling all his secrets doesn’t mean he is any less worthy of our empathy. To that end, Jackson-Cohen, perhaps best known for The Haunting of Hill House, gives an incredibly layered performance. Through his portrayal, it’s easy to believe the hardness of Jack’s exterior and the tenderness and emotional vulnerability he conveys. His eyes are open and expressive, his actions tenacious, as they come from a place of deep pain. Paired with Jackson-Cohen’s performance and the film’s superb tension-building, Jackdaw’s final showdown is heavy and emotionally effective, packing a punch that will leave you breathless.
Childs’ film is impressive; it’s thrilling in all the ways it should be, never losing its momentum, even in the scenes where nothing seemingly happens, it’s all a buildup to an exciting finale. Its strength is that it isn’t trying to be or do multiple things at once. Jackdaw is aided by a grounded, moving performance from Jackson-Cohen, a fantastic supporting cast, and sharp storytelling that brings everything together without overstaying its welcome.
Jackdaw had its premiere during 2023’s Fantastic Fest. The film is 97 minutes long and unrated.