Matching Jack



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Review by Louise Keller:
It has been 13 long years since we have had the pleasure of seeing a film by director Nadia Tass. Her last film (and last collaboration with David Parker) was Amy in 1997, a heartfelt film about a traumatised little girl who could communicate through music. Although the story is totally different, there are parallels with Tass’ latest film Matching Jack, whose life and death subject matter requires (and ably receives) sensitive handling. Based on a story by Lynne Renew, who also wrote the screenplay with Parker, we are confronted by serious issues facing a family in times of adversity as well as serious discomforts as the imperfections of the characters are brought under the spotlight. Eliciting superb performances from her lead actors, Tass delivers a potent drama about human relationships and vulnerabilities. Hope, despair, anger, fear, comfort and faith are the emotions we traverse in this touching story about love and loss.

We are quickly thrown into the characters’ predicament, when Jack (Tom Russell) becomes tired before half time at soccer and is admitted to hospital for treatment of his high white blood cell count. What might bring loving parents together as they are forced to address a tough situation pulls them apart: infidelity separates Jacinta Barrett’s Marissa and Richard Roxburgh’s David as surely as the hospital curtain separates Jack and his roommate Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

In a sensitive and beautifully measured performance, James Nesbitt plays Finn’s father Connor, the catalyst for the family’s plight, who believes in things other than medicine are vital to administer at times like these. When we see the make-believe world that Connor creates as he makes his son’s hospital bed into a ship, with sails and masthead, we understand how this symbol of passage to the next life reassures his young son.

Barrett is exceptional as the devastated young mother and wife, who finds herself alone and desperate to do anything in her power to save her son. Yvonne Strahovski makes her mark as David’s mistress, who has her own problems to resolve. Both young boys are good too: I especially like the stillness and understatement of Smit-McPhee’s performance as the leukemia stricken boy grappling with his emotions while Russell makes Jack very real.

The script is occasionally on shaky ground as Marissa confronts women from David’s past in ways that are questionable. Also, the night excursion to Luna Park, when the boys dress up in Koala and Chicken suits is open to critical analysis. But there is no doubting the passion and heart of the film, which meets all the issues head-on and resolves them to our satisfaction.

Melbourne, through Parker’s keenly cinematic lens looks striking while Paul Grabowsky’s delicate, yet potent score (effective with its flutes and pipes) contributes greatly to the mood. This is a thoughtful work whose subject matter is as complex as life itself and a worthwhile journey to make.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Built on a premise that would make Pedro Almodovar proud, Matching Jack is a gripping melodrama that explores a complex set of relationships amidst the intensity of deadly illness. The scenario couldn’t be grimmer: a 9 year old is diagnosed with leukemia and that diagnosis coincides with – actually prompts – his mother discovering her husband’s infidelity.

The story is given its wings by the mother’s response: she sets about looking through her husband’s possible mistresses for a so far undiscovered illegitimate offspring who could provide the desperately needed bone marrow match for her son. In the meantime, her son makes friends with the boy in the next bed, whose widowed father goes to extraordinary lengths to help his son through his dreadful final days.

The screenplay is well structured, and delivers the emotional punch it intends to, even though it is occasionally flawed: there is an underwritten scene when Marissa (Jacinda Barrett) first learns of David’s (Richard Roxburgh) mistress, too many sequences of Marissa seeking out and confronting the ex-mistresses, and a failure to explain how a baby still some months from being born could possibly become a donor in time to save Jack.

But Nadia Tass directs with great sensitivity and maturity, probing the betrayed parental relationship at the same time keeping the focus on the intense drama surrounding the need for a donor.

The cast are excellent: Kodi Smit-McPhee is a standout as the ailing young Finn, as is James Nesbitt as his devoted dad. Tom Russell makes a good fist of Jack, the youngster battered and confused by the combination of illness and parental conflict, and Yvonne Strahovski makes an impact as the current mistress, Veronica. Both Jacinda Barrett and Richard Roxburgh create tangible and complex characters, although we never learn why David is a serial philanderer, but perhaps he doesn’t really know himself.

Tass has also secured an outstanding supporting cast, including Colin Friels as Professor Nelson (treating Jack), Victoria Eagger as a hospital nurse Amanda Muggleton as a home nurse, among others. Thoughtful and compassionate, Matching Jack is a satisfying work from all concerned, not least production designer Jon Dowding and composer Paul Grabowsky.

– Urban Cinefile