"I'm an Irish male, I've got one coping mechanism...repression."
In what's widely to be considered a very unpopular opinion, "Game of Thrones" left me feeling flat, but what I've seen of the series (the first season and part of the second), I can't deny that the show has some stellar acting talent behind it. One supporting player that jumped out was Iain Glen, a veteran actor of stage and screen (both big and small). Naturally, upon discovering Glen was involved with a series of TV movies focusing on a modern day hard-boiled and hard-drinking PI, Jack Taylor, levels of personal curiosity were high. Adapted from Ken Bruen's novels of the same name, "Jack Taylor: Set 1" collects the first three TV adaptations from Ireland's TV3. Released throughout 2010 and 2011, "Jack Taylor" takes through three distinct, but tonally familiar TV-movies that I'd best describe to American audiences as "Jesse Stone" films on a weekend bender.
The first of the three films, aptly titled "The Guards" serves as an introduction to the character, beginning with Taylor's final moments as a member of the title group (well, Garda Siochana to be precise, but "The Guard" is much easier to relay to audiences). The audience gets a firm grasp on Taylor's code of ethics and surly behavior as he and a terrified partner chase down a local government official, resulting in Taylor throwing his career away with a hastily thrown, but well deserved punch to the face of the official's driver. Fast forward a short time later, and Taylor has taken up the career of a PI on the case of a standard missing persons report. As is the case with all of Jack's cases, there's not a straightforward solution to things and the investigation reveals a decidedly hackneyed but savagely engaging and entertaining seedy underbelly to society.
The remaining two films "The Pikemen" and "The Magdalene Murders" benefit greatly from audiences having a familiarity with Taylor, with the former introducing a "sidekick" for Jack named Cody (Killian Scott) who equally gets on Taylor's nerves while serving an important role as gofer for Taylor when it comes to acquiring information. "The Pikemen" throws Taylor and Cody into a fairly by-the-numbers vigilante mystery. Like all three of the films, "The Pikemen" doesn't make any great strides forward in original narrative, but due in nearly equal parts to the slick, gritty cinematography and Glen's performance (more on that in a minute), the roughly 90-minute runtimes move quickly and efficiently, providing ample entertainment. "The Magdalene Murders" offers the initial trio of film's most satisfying and original offering and example of how "Jack Taylor" takes the familiar and makes it work one more time. This time Taylor is pulled into a decades old mystery that begins with allegations of abuse at a Magdalen laundry by a sadistic nun known only by the ominous title "Lucifer." The resulting investigation really allows our title character to grow and the plot twists to unfold in regular succession.
In no uncertain terms, Iain Glen is the reason why "Jack Taylor" works on a non-stylistic level. Glen brings a complex performance to a stock character: he's boorish, vulgar, brutal, and perpetually intoxicated, but underneath it all, there's a sense of honor, loyalty, and hidden personal anguish that keeps this unflinchingly hard PI moving forward with unrelenting purpose. A key scene in "The Magdalene Murders" puts Jack at the crossroads after having been threatened with his life to give up a key piece of evidence; one shot of whiskey later and Jack's commitment to keeping his word (as well as the unstated purpose of doing what is morally right) sees him plunging into an increasingly dark world yet again with possible life-changing consequences. The series offers a number of moments where a more tender Taylor wants to show himself to the world, but wisely, personal demons keep their hold on the character and give him purpose to continue showing up in new tales of crime and punishment for viewers. "Jack Taylor" already has two more films to offer viewers and if what these first three built to a crescendo in "The Magdalene Murders" continues its natural course, viewers are in store for another set of films that take very familiar territory and make it seem fresh and captivating.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer has a distinct level of digital noise/grain that complements the cold, grey color palette that feels right at home in the slick cinematography the series has to offer. Detail levels are consistently strong throughout and there are no telltale signs of digital tinkering.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track is perfectly serviceable, but with the nice visual appeal of the film finely represented, a solid 5.1 mix would have added greatly to the thematic presentation. It's a solid mix, with only a few lines of dialogue getting lost in the more frantic sequences (some thick accents add to that as well). English SDH subtitles are included.
The only extras are photo galleries for each episode..
"Jack Taylor: Set 1" isn't a narrative revolution. At its core it's a new spin on the classic booze-addled PI, but backed by a performance from Iain Glen that adds a lot of unstated developmental character moments, coupled with unrelenting, dark stories, viewers should find these first three films incredibly satisfying. Highly Recommended.