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Matching Jack

Australia 2010
Directed by
Nadia Tass
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Matching Jack

Synopsis:  Nine-year-old Jack (Tom Russell) is the only child of Marisa (Jacinta Barrett) and David Hagen (Richard Roxburgh). When he is diagnosed with leukaemia, and concurrently Marisa finds out about David’s many infidelities, she latches onto a scheme to perhaps find a matching marrow donor from any of her husband’s  possible illegitimate offspring. Meantime Tom’s time in hospital is made extraordinary by the presence of another young patient Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his Irish father, Connor (James Nesbitt).

Matching Jack is an unashamed tear-jerker, an emotional manipulator of momumental proportions and yet for me (with some reservations) it worked wonderfully well. It is full of love and compassion and I defy anyone to watch it dry-eyed.

Getting my reservations out of the way, I found certain plot points stretched my credulity – I cannot imagine, no matter how patient -friendly a hospital may be, that they would allow a father to transform a hospital bed to the shape of a ship, put up a mast, wheel it through the corridors, and bring a masthead of enormous proportions into the ward. Nor do I expect they would allow lighting of multitudinous candles for atmosphere. That silliness aside, the film has way more strengths than flaws and the biggest of these are the remarkable performances by the two young leading lads, and also by Irish import James Nesbitt.

Kodi Smit-McPhee came to our attention in Romulus My Father and then The Road. As a boy in terminal stages of leukaemia he is almost incandescent with a maturity way beyond his years. I wholeheartedly believed in his condition, his personality and his compassion. Tom Russell also convinces as Jack, a most likeable child with whom we empathize strongly. Scared, Jack is uncertain initially of what his condition implies but he is guided by his new-found friend, Finn. Nesbitt plays a dedicated father, full of imagination, grace, tenderness and self sacrifice. One scene in particular involving complete surrender to anguish stays in my mind.

The rest of the cast play their parts admirably. Richard Roxburgh always impresses me, and his David, although a philandering rogue, still elicits some sympathy as he demonstrates he is not irredeemable. Jacinta Barrett really pours her maternal heart into Marisa as she goes door to door confronting horrified women who once had affairs with her husband. Certain scenes involving her and Roxburgh stand out as powerful and cathartic and showcase the pair’s acting skills.

Melbourne is used to fabulous effect as a location. It is refreshing to see way the cinematographer, the director’s husband and long-time collaborator, David Parker, uses the old Williamstown boatshed where Connor used to sail with his son. The views across to the city are startlingly beautiful, as is the use of lighting and framing.

Although elements of the plot are fairly predictable, they are handled in a way that still keeps you, the audience, 100% engaged, with hearts in mouths and Kleenex firmly in hand. Ultimately the film is about love in its many different guises, with some totally unexpected characters coming in towards the end to demonstrate true altruistic love. It is also about death – confronting it head on, and different ways of making the end manageable and memorable. In a nutshell, the film’s heartbeat is a definite 5 out of 5.




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