“I’m an Irish male. I’ve got one coping mechanism: repression.”
In a nutshell, that’s an honest self-appraisal by former police official Jack Taylor. And nutshell is the word. Cashiered from the backbone (albeit corrupt) arm of Irish law enforcement, The Guards, Taylor is a destructive intellectual/violent/alcoholic who nevertheless when polluted (which is most of the time), still maintains a modicum of detection skills. Not necessarily a good thing in modern-day Galway – painted with bleak strokes that at best are rendered with nightmarish beauty…and at worst recall the nadir of Mike Hodges’ London in 1971’s Get Carter.
JACK TAYLOR is based on the best-selling crime novels by Ken Bruen, and is the latest in the long and enviable line of superb British TV detectives. I’m not sure if Series One (2010-2011) has yet been broadcast here in the States, but regardless enthusiastically encourage mystery fans to scoop up this three-disc/three feature-length DVD set, guaranteeing uncut and unvarnished enjoyment of this extremely unconventional (and often) reprehensible sleuth. It’s currently available through the Acorn Media Group.
The world of Jack Taylor is enough to test the staunchest film noir fan. Everything is ugly: the locales, haunts, and recurring characters – none so much as Taylor himself, played with achingly painful aplomb by Iain Glen (perhaps best-known to U.S. viewers as Ser Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones and suave publisher Sir Richard Carlisle on Downton Abbey – a tribute to his considerable thespian expertise). Glen’s Taylor is seemingly always just one step away from his latest vomit-in-the-gutter episode – his every movement wincing in pain from his frequent thrashings (some by his own former sadistic Guard cohorts), bar brawls, and d.t. aftershocks. His face is as craggy as the Irish coast, the dialog (scripted by Tom Collins, Anne McCabe, Ralph Christians and Martenin Thorrison) just as sharp; his judgment is habitually tainted by drink and an undeniable addiction to violence. Physically, he could be the bastard child of Richard Harris and Father Ted’s Jack Hackett.
The brilliant thing about JACK TAYLOR is the main protagonist’s faltering abilities to see the forest for the trees. Most of his mates are scumbags – a constant that allows the audience to occasionally be one step ahead of the dishonored dick. Case in point: a revered painter is one of Taylor’s best pals; he’s even done a highly celebrated portrait of his ex-Guard friend. When in pursuit of a serial killer targeting young girls, the artist accompanies his sloshed buddy – eventually cornering a suspect, torturing him and causing his death. To anyone this would be a big red flag; to Jack, it’s just a tangent that went slightly askew. It comes back to kick him in the arse big time.
Jack’s former superior, Clancy (Frank O’Sullivan) is like a pockmarked abortion of a silent-screen comic – eyebrows arched in mock dismay, also sporting a Jimmy Finlayson brush. Taylor’s one confidante on the force is Kate Noonan (Nora Jane Noone), a “stunner” garda who is both attracted to and repelled by Taylor. Taylor’s trust in her is due to her double life – she moonlights in a bar as balladeer – and quite a good one too.
Jack’s mom (Aine Ni Mhuiri) is a bitter, insolent hag who sold her son’s beloved library of literature and chopped up the bookshelf his father cobbled together for firewood. She’s the victim (literally so, we discover) of the Catholic school system and spends most of her quality time with the local righteous corpulent chain-smoking Father Malachy (Padraic Breathnack). Taylor refers to them as Brad and Angelina.
His only true trusted human relationships comprise various barkeeps and his whacked landlady (Sighle Ni Chonail) – an almost sure sign that they’ll eventually expire in some heinous fashion.
That said, Taylor’s scant non-alcoholic pleasures encompass quoting Emerson and Eliot, and discussing Henry James with fellow drunken sots…In this respect, he’s a kinder, gentler Wolf Larsen. Furthermore, he maintains an eclectic collection of books and DVDs of classic movies. Wow – that could be me, I thought for a wisp…if I were a boozing, abusive, vicious sociopath. I’m not kidding about that last part – Taylor does resort to killing without remorse when the situation arises.
The trio of engrossing adventures that make up Set One of JACK TAYLOR are all winners; trust me, you’ve never seen anything like it. In the initial outing, The Guards, we learn of Jack’s dismissal, his downward spiral (“it’s almost impossible to get thrown out unless you become a public disgrace”) and his reluctant decision to hunt down the murderer of four butchered teen females. Along the way, he is hired and squired by a dangerous, mysterious beauty (Tara Breathnach) who desires his services as a P.I. (the mere notion of being called a P.I. makes the Gaelic shamus cringe, as he considers it “…too close to being an informer.”). Soon Taylor is engulfed in a sickening world of drug dealing, deceit, white slavery, and pedophilia. And then it gets bad. Discovered in an alley after a ferocious beating, Taylor’s asked if he called the Guards. “They WERE the Guards!” he replies before nearly lapsing into a coma.
A year has gone by before Taylor returns to his environs in The Pikesman. Reunited with the femme fatale who retained his services in the first installment, Taylor reveals to her how his last twelve months were spent (“I read a lot, drank…thought about you for a year”). When the lady later appears covered with welts – a “reward” from her current affluent psycho lover, she attempts lame justification. “He’s a good man deep down,” she tells her former employee/paramour; “Hitler loved puppies,” Taylor wryly replies.
This “good” dude’s subsequent liquidation plunges Taylor into the nocturnal abyss of the title group – a band of vigilantes, who hunt and mete out justice with tearing-wings-off-flies panache. Taylor is also thrown into an uneasy alliance with Cody (Killian Scott) – an off-kilter twenty-something who wants to become the investigator’s Boswell (“Have you ANY relation to reality whatsoever?” he inquires of his admirer before threatening to shoot him).
The final mystery in the set, The Madgalen Martyrs, is perhaps the most disturbing – and considering all of the above…think about that! Taylor, now begrudgingly partnered with Cody, is approached by a troubled woman in possession of a diary uncovered after her mother’s recent suicide. The deceased’s horrific past goes back to the early 1960s, when entombed in a Catholic school with her other “classmates,” she underwent ritual torture by a repressed evil nun, known by the name of Lucifer (no kidding, this twisted sister is the scariest habit-wearing lunatic since Kathleen Byron in Black Narcissus). A drug-dealing, wheelchair-bound maniac, his crazed henchman, and the execution murders of supposedly innocent young brothers all figure in the plot that Taylor finds, much to his revulsion, includes his own incapable-of-affection mother. This makes the pariah lawman all the more eager to track down the “…monster…bitch” Lucifer before more killings occur.
JACK TAYLOR is one wild visual DUI ride – a swerving cinematic escapade that eternally conjures up an insomniac’s 3 AM bottle Jones. Production values are top-notch, as is the slithery-smooth direction by Stuart Orme. Ditto the picture quality, shot in High Definition and presented in a flawless 16 x 9 anamorphic transfer. The stereo-surround tracks provide some creepy audio enhancements along with thumping scores by Colin Towns and Stephen McKeon. And then there are the aforementioned Noone tunes – a nice breather to the otherwise unsavory goings-on.
The upshot is that if you’re looking for something different, JACK TAYLOR fits the bill handily with a triad of thrillers as staggering as its lead’s composure – hard-boiled and pickled at the same time.
JACK TAYLOR, SET 1. Color. Letterboxed [16 x 9 anamorphic]; stereo-surround. CAT # AMP-8963. SRP: $49.95.