Based on a series of novels by author Peter Temple, "Jack Irish" follows the exploits of the detective by the same name. This Blu-Ray, dubbed "Set 1", covers the first two film-length Jack Irish stories, "Bad Debts" and "Black Tide", based on the corresponding novels with the same titles. Set in Australia, these telemovies were shot on location and scored hometown megastar Guy Pearce to play Jack. (Set 2 will presumably cover the other two novels, with the third telefilm having recently wrapped production and slated to air in 2014.)
Like most private investigators, Jack Irish has a dark past. At one time, Jack was a fancy criminal lawyer with a beautiful wife, Isabelle (Emma Booth), but his life came to an abrupt halt when a disgruntled client, upset over the departure of his wife while he was in jail, shows up at Jack's business and kills Isabelle, then himself. Now, Jack splits his time between drinking at a local dive with a trio of geezers who cheer his father's disbanded football team (matches on VHS) and grifting the odds at horse races with his new boss, Harry Strang (Roy Billing) and his muscle, Cam (Aaron Pedersen).
The mysteries in these first two episodes are about corporate corruption: shady land deals and drug transport. To be frank, the plots are not particularly interesting -- although the stories are reasonably complex, the mysteries just aren't that engaging, with the thrill of the hunt never taking charge. Instead, the appeal of "Jack Irish" is in the character of Irish himself (at least, as portrayed by Pearce), and his associates, most specifically sexy local reporter Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp), who helps Jack with his investigation in "Bad Debts." Both Jack and Linda have a world-weariness about them when it comes to romance, and the chemistry between Pearce and Dusseldorp is low-key but still electrifying.
Much like the romance, Pearce's portrayal of Jack Irish has a casual attitude that works well for the show. Pearce, who has a sharp class when cleaned up and wonderful everyman qualities when dressed down, is a perfect fit for a noir-ish detective. His shambling pursuit of information matches the casual rhythm of the show, which takes story threads that could become tiring if they were too arranged and lets them fall where they may. Example: in "Black Tide", gangsters visit the woodshop where Jack spends his off hours and beat up Jack's friend Charlie (the late Vadim Glowna). In a lesser show, this would probably be a lazy framing device, used to motivate Jack at the beginning and to provide a pat resolution at the end, but here it's just a detour that relates to the story but doesn't carry it.
Despite the leisurely pace, "Jack Irish" is a frequently thrilling and intense show. Director Jeffrey Walker is skilled at sustaining tension; Jack's investigations involve very powerful, dangerous people, and throughout these two "episodes" it constantly feels as if his life is in genuine danger. If the show has a flaw, it could be argued that Jack's success can rely more on chance than ingenuity (the climax of "Bad Debts", for example), but even during tense scenes, the stakes of the show are never ratcheted up to the point where story weaknesses feel like a big deal.
"Jack Irish": Set 1 comes in a standard Blu-Ray case with a slipcover, with the Blu-Ray and DVD copy inside. The artwork for the set (identical on both the case and slipcover) goes simple, with just a photo of Guy Pearce on the cover with the title in big, bold lettering. Even operating under the assumption that the star power is the selling point, it feels like a little more effort could've been applied here.
The Video and Audio
The two 1.78:1 1080p AVC transfers on this disc are fairly excellent. The show tends to avoid the most bright and vivid colors, and contrast can appear a tiny bit weak, but they appear to be accurate otherwise. Fine detail is in keeping with a modern HD transfer, with each fleck of Pearce's five o'clock shadow impeccably rendered. The one complaint is of course a little minor banding during fade transitions, and a minimal amount of artifacting during dark sequences.
A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is decent, if not the full surround sound experience. Most of "Jack Irish" is just characters talking to one another, so there wouldn't necessarily be much use for a 5.1 mix anyway, but the result is a fairly basic aural experience, with dialogue coming through the front and music coming in the back. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Only one extra here: a making-of featurette (17:30, HD). This piece covers the challenge of adapting the books into 90-minute telemovies, the production schedule, and capturing the film noir feel without film noir visuals. Pearce and Dusseldorp also chime in, with Pearce talking about his pleasure at being able to work in Australia and developing a character over two movies, and Dusseldorp commenting on the experience of shooting action sequences. Overly clip-heavy, but not totally worthless. A promo for "Falcon" also plays before the main menu.
I have no idea how "Jack Irish" stacks up to the books that inspired it, but this is a lightly enjoyable watch with smart casting, effective tension, and a hint of passion for good measure. It's more a priority for fans of Pearce or the novel than general mystery fans, but this set is definitely recommended.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.