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Divorcing Jack movie review

Divorcing Jack

Most reviewers are going to love this. I can just tell. Deriving from the critically acclaimed novel of the same name (Colin Bateman), they'll be wooed by the success of an independent film, and the sensitivity of the setting and central narrative (newly unified Eire, or at least independent Northern Ireland). They will be charmed by the cynical and sometimes witty protagonist, Dan Starkey, (David Thewlis). The "everyday" nature of the characters - mainly post-punk 30-somethings - will come across as genuine. Finally, they will be entranced by the roller coaster plot, where Starkey's indiscreet liaisons lead to a murder, being chased by the UDF, the IRA, and RUC an all the other factional acronyms, being assisted by a gun-toting nun, and rubbing shoulders with political figures of a national scale.

Movie Still, Rachel Griffith in Divorcing Jack, Festivale film reviews; divorcingjack.jpg - 14506 Bytes
Movie Still, Rachel Griffith in Divorcing Jack
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According to all traditional means of evaluation, this is a very good film. The setting - and its elaboration - has depth and plausibility, especially the honest portrayal of Belfast as a mostly normal place.. Nearly all the characters - to the extent possible in a film - are sufficiently complex in motivations and interest. The narrative is rapid, with a requisite number of diversions, and comes across without a sense of contrivance. Finally, the thematic content is rich and troublesome and should inspire the audience to leave the celluloid with something to think about.

Actually, let me revise the first sentence: most reviewers do love it. Stephen Dalton of Uncut Magazine suggests that it is the best film of the year, which isn't saying much because as far as I'm concerned there is only one excellent film every two or three years. The Danish Filmfest makes the absurd comment that "this film is influenced by Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Peter Milliagan and Garth Ennis" (alternative comic-book writers). Even in Belfast, Northern Irish actor Adrian Dunbar, heaped praise on the premiere.

So why am I still unconvinced? Apart from my own harsh opinionated aesthetic judgement, and cynicism of anything that has populist appeal?

Well, first and foremost: politics. The producers claim that Divorcing Jack has "no cosy liberal answers". Maybe not, but there is an extraordinary level of abdication here: because the British have left the scene in this setting, there is no need to examine the occupation in a political manner; all that is left is a bunch of gang-lords and an U.S. style media savvy President. For anyone who has any knowledge of the situation in the six counties escaping the question of the occupation simply isn't plausible.

Secondly, the key plot device - and I mean device - is completely contrived; not that it comes across as such. The unlikely circumstance of events that leads to it falling in the hands of the protagonist is cleverly hidden among scenes - eros and thanatos no less! - of such dramatic interest that it is only through a careful post-mortem reconstruction that one can possibly realise how utterly improbable this element is.

Finally, the acting: 'wooden' is a fair description. Once again, this is cleverly hidden under some magnificent script. With the exception of the Rachel Griffith's character (Lee Cooper, the gun toting nun), and the bit-pieces by one of the IRA members (you'll know which one) the character actions body language simply isn't convincing. The worst example here is Thewlis himself whose movements and tone give the constant impression of someone acting, rather than being, an inebriated reporter.

At the end of the day, I have no doubt that this film will be successful and enjoyable. It has all the right elements and is constructed with the strategic formulae to manipulate moments of disbelief. But I also have no doubt that it will soon be forgotten, as it lacks any enduring qualities (epic or cultic). Divorcing Jack is a disposable entertainment item for instant gratification masquerading with a pretence of intellectual credibility.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mallLev Lafayette
See also: Nicky's review
Rachel Griffith also appears in Hilary and Jackie

Due for Australian release
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Just the facts:

Title: Divorcing Jack (1998)
Written by: Colin Bateman (novel, screenplay)
Directed by: David Caffrey
Produced by:
Edited by:
Director of Photography:
running time: 110 mins

The Players: David Thewlis, Rachel Griffith
Official website
IMDb: entry
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