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Thursday, June 13, 2013

JACK TAYLOR: SET 1 -- DVD review by porfle

Jack Taylor is, as they say, a hot mess. "How the mighty have fallen" his own mother sourly remarks of the former Garda (i.e., Irish cop) for the city of Galway, now kicked off the force for misbehaving and working as a lowly private investigator who can't stay off the sauce. In this trio of feature-length adventures in Acorn Media's 3-disc collection JACK TAYLOR: SET 1, it's a wonder that the terminally hungover and frequently beaten-within-an-inch-of-his-life gumshoe ever makes it through a case alive.

We're introduced to Jack pretty cold, without the usual "getting to know you" formalities, so at first he comes off as a fairly unlikable character as we see him throwing his Garda career away by chasing down the car of a government bigwig for "speeding" and then punching the guy's lights out for complaining. Jack then gets drunk, gets de-badged, gets drunk again, sinks to the level of becoming a "finder" (they don't seem to be popular in Ireland), and celebrates by getting drunk.

It isn't until we start finding out why Jack stays loaded all the time that we begin to warm up to him somewhat, beginning with his less than idyllic upbringing (meeting his mom tells us a lot) and his generally unfortunate experiences in regard to all manner of personal relationships. The only people who seem to like him are an inexplicably supportive landlady, a prickly, chain-smoking priest (Paraic Breathnach as Father Malachy), and a young female Garda named Kate (the striking Nora-Jane Noone of THE DESCENT) who doesn't know him well enough yet to dislike him, along with various old drinking buddies who have a tendency to get killed or turn out to be bad guys.

Anyway, after seeing what Jack has to put up with on a daily basis, his chronic alcoholism becomes somewhat more understandable and he begins to grow on us. (Like a rash.) Most importantly, the cases he gets drawn into are consistently interesting, leading us through all sorts of deepening twists and turns and dramatic character exchanges before coming to a suspenseful finish.

Making things harder for Jack is his tendency to get soundly thrashed (we're talking emergency-room-level beat-ups here) and to react to bad news by going on a "lost weekend" bender that would make Ray Milland jealous, then waking up with no memory of the previous three days or so. (Which tends to hinder his job performance.) And bad news is a major part of his job since, coincidentally, most of the cases he takes on seem to involve people from his personal life including his own hatchet-faced mum.

Iain Glen (THE IRON LADY, TARA ROAD), who has the ability to look either shabbily distinguished or just plain shabby, is an ideal choice to play Jack. Glen allows us to see the good qualities that Jack keeps hidden beneath his rough exterior, but also manages to convey a menacing resolve that comes to the fore when Jack gets kicked around once too often. The rest of the regular cast are fine as well, especially Nora-Jane Noone as Jack's reluctant insider ally, Kate. Direction by Stuart Orme (COLDITZ) is casual but controlled, which fits the material and atmosphere of the show well. Scriptwriting is consistently sharp.

The first feature-length episode, "The Guards" (2010), is Jack's origin story, as it were. The bodies of young girls are washing up onshore and the police tend to chalk it up to suicide. Anne (Tara Breathnach), the mother of a missing teenage girl, hires Jack to find her daughter before she meets the same mysterious fate. Jack enlists the aid of an old drinking mate, Sutton (Ralph Brown, ALIEN 3's celebrated "Eighty-Five"), when he discovers a connection between the drownings and a couple of local businessmen who may have a few unsavory sexual hang-ups. The trouble is, Sutton turns out to be just as out-of-control as the bad guys, turning Jack's investigation into a royal cock-up that isn't helped when he starts getting romantic with his client. Once we get to know and like Jack, "The Guards" becomes an engrossing murder mystery with a satisfying ending.

"The Pikemen" (2011) is the story of a group of hooded vigilantes terrorizing Galway, with Jack being hired by the father of a man murdered by the gang for no apparent reason. Jack picks up an unwanted partner named Cody (Killian Scott), an enthusiastic teen who idolizes him and wants to be Robin to Jack's Batman. With their signature weapons--a combination axe and spear--the Pikemen wreak bloody havoc with anyone they consider guilty of a crime for which they've gone unpunished, while making things unpleasant for Jack when he starts getting too close. Jack gets beaten up really bad, in addition to being framed for murder, in this extremely lively and emotional tale about unbearable guilt and self-righteous vengeance.

Finally, "The Magdalen Martyrs" (2011) is the heartrending tale of a sadistic nun (Sarah O'Toole) aptly nicknamed "Lucifer" by the young girls whose lives she makes a living hell by torturing them for their sins (such as smoking and having lustful thoughts). Years later, the daughter of one of the girls hires Jack to locate "Lucifer" with the help of a diary, through which--in one of those wild coincidences that this show asks us to accept--Jack discovers that his own mother was one of the monstrous nun's cowering victims.

With all this juicy stuff going on, there's a subplot in which teen boys are being murdered by a professional hitman, with Jack's old drug-dealing nemesis Cassel (Liam Carney) lingering at death's door just long enough to make Jack's life miserable for reasons as yet unknown. How these two seemingly unrelated storylines come together leads to an intensely exciting nailbiting conclusion that ends this set with a bang.

The 3-disc set from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and subtitles in English. Extras consist of a brief photo gallery for each episode.

In a world that has no respect for private detectives, and doesn't deem you automatically cool just for being one, Jack Taylor overcomes his personal vices and shortcomings and manages to do the right thing for his clients--eventually--while giving us some first-class entertainment along the way. JACK TAYLOR: SET 1 is sophisticated adult stuff, straight-up and 100 proof, and just right for a lost weekend of intoxicating binge viewing.

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