Watching an actor land his first starring role is always exciting. For Oliver Jackson-Cohen, the young actor has lurked just beyond stardom. While he played the titular Invisible Man, the film focused on turning him into a villain. His work with Mike Flanagan resulted in two great performances, though he was undeniably evil in Bly Manor. Yet Jaime Childs saw that Jackson-Cohen had it in him to take on a leading role. Child’s directorial debut, Jackdaw, provides a stunning proof-of-concept for the young actor.
A former motocross driver and armed services veteran, Jack (Jackson-Cohen), goes to complete a special job in the North Sea. However, the package he recovers instantly puts him in the crosshairs of a band of criminals. As they chase him down, Jack realizes they’ve kidnapped his developmentally disabled brother. Jack must put his life in harm’s way to save his family.
Childs and Jackson-Cohen clearly realize the lineage of British action thrillers they’ve joined with Jackdaw. Within a few scenes, they play up some of the best tropes of the “Garbage Lad,” Childs can breeze through the setup for his protagonist. This broody man with a heart of gold has taken up crime to cover the bills. However, when he or his family is threatened, he becomes a force of nature. The lineage of Snatch, Mona Lisa, and Layer Cake is just the tip of the iceberg. Add a dash of Gosling’s brooding from Drive, and you’ve nailed the concept.
Jackson-Cohen handles the emotional moments exceptionally well, especially when paired with Jenna Coleman. The Doctor Who actress proves a perfect foil to Jackson-Cohen, creating her own mysterious figure to raise the intrigue. Yet a showdown between Jackson-Cohen and Rory McCann steals the show. The young actor not only shows the anger and worry in his eyes, but he showcases the power dynamics of each relationship with a few simple facial expressions.
Jackson-Cohen can not only handle the physicality and professionalism of a career criminal, but he also hammers home that emotion. It’s a skill set that many cannot handle, often favoring one aspect over the other. It could put Jackson-Cohen on a curious path forward. After all, a particular British spy is up for a recasting soon. Regardless of what Jackson-Cohen does moving forward, he needs to continue to team up with Childs. The two clearly benefit each other in a variety of ways.
Childs also shows an unusual control of pace for a first-time feature director. With some experience on television, it’s not entirely out of left field. Still, it’s impressive to watch a filmmaker handle the story’s ups and downs while ensuring the action stays consistent. For a moment before the final act, Jackdaw slows down a little too much. However, after a minor incident kicks off the last act, Childs and editor David Fisher quickly get us back into the action mindset.
A feature like Jackdaw brings out the best in the indie community. They showcase the raw talent of great filmmakers to create and break down their genre of choice. The craft team showcases their skill despite the limited resources. Most important of all, the actors get to shine. Childs’ approach as a filmmaker seems to yield great results, and if this is just the start of their career, audiences will be spoiled in the decade to come.