When you hear a film is based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy, perhaps the first reaction is one of dread. The works of Tolstoy are so delicately woven and expansive; the task of taming them in cinematic form is far from easy and has conquered many a fine filmmaker in the past. However, director Bernard Rose, known most notably for eerie works of atmospheric horror such as Paperhouse and Candyman (as well as, crucially, three previous Tolstoy adaptations), takes on this daunting challenge with relish in 2 Jacks, a story of two generations of lost men each navigating their way through the minefield that is Hollywood, tasting the delights and the darkness that tinsel town teases. The result is a film that both succeeds and occasionally frustrates, as many extremely positive elements clash against a few inconsistencies that that hamper the film’s overall effectiveness.

2 Jacks, unsurprisingly, follows the fortunes of two Jacks: Jack Hussar Sr., a legendary Hollywood returning from Africa in search of funding for his latest picture; before moving years later into the future to follow those of his prodigal son, Jack Hussar Jr., an aspiring young director hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps, but unfortunately, begins to fall into all of his father’s missteps too. The concept is rich with questions of morality, legacy, the tones of nostalgia and in particular the sins of the Father. You can feel how the legacy left by Jack Sr. is leaving fractures for the future, bumps in the road, elegantly reflected in the film’s circular structure as the motions and movements of Jack Sr. are repeated by Jack Jr., leading him to the very place his father began, a near desolate airport; a no more fitting symbol of the transience of life. Furthermore, the film gleefully looks at the layers of reality and fantasy that come as part of Hollywood existence, in all its abstract lunacy: the shallow parties where people plead for attention; the money men who will offer filmmakers the world…for a price; the starlets looking for any way into the A-List; and the friends who feign love while they hold the knife to the back. Rose focuses on the formalism of these events in order to emphasise the sheer ridiculousness in content of the guest’s conversations and actions beneath the smiles, with cameos from the likes of Billy Zane and Dan Ireland, each playing hyper realised versions of themselves (or the people they have suffered around them) with much aplomb.

As the narrative holds tightly and is laced with barbs of humour, the visual style of the film clashes against the smoothness of its satire and playfulness. Upon my initial viewing, I felt Rose’s use of a handheld style, which allowed intimate access of the characters, took a layer of gloss away from the film. However, the more I considered the shape of the film and its themes, I believe it can be argued this is a tactic to reveal the plain reality of the Hollywood dream from outside of the bauble, and in this particular guise, works well to enhance the cutting contrasts between the dream and the reality; the nostalgia for a time that only exists in the imagined, one that exists in the spirit of those chasing it, but can never be truly realised. However, all is not perfect: the jarring nature of the film can perhaps be best illustrated in its sense of momentum. The film opens with a patient crawl as Jack Sr. returns and drags Brad into his world, before steady becoming more rapid in movement as he begins his wild ride through the city at night, occasionally pausing for moments of character interaction. Then suddenly, like a punch in the gut, the time jump occurs throwing the audience ahead to meet Jack Jr, where we repeat the same cycle of build-up and then intense fall out. Structurally it works well, and grabs the viewer with its brutality. However, its peaks and valleys serve to also unhinge the film slightly, emphasising tonal imbalances within the film as it moves from one scenario to the next.

Perhaps the most successful element of the whole film is the genius of its casting. Danny Huston in the role of Jack Hussar Sr. almost appears to be playing a version of his own father, the legendary Jack Huston, channelling a roguish attitude that’s laced with a charm that is infectious, but almost serves as a shield that the last vestiges of his hope and optimism hide behind. It’s a brash and loud performance that also manages to be full of subtle motions and gestures that reveal the real man beneath the icon. Furthermore, the casting of Danny’s real life nephew Jack Huston as Jack’s wide eyed and devil may care son, Jack Jr., works exceedingly well. It’s a less complex or grandstanding role, but one of equal importance as Jack has to reflect the roguish nature of his father, but with a difficult balance between youthful frivolity and a fear of the legacy of his actions, something he achieves perfectly. The film is held together by the twin pillars of these reflective performances, giving strength to both the film’s satire and the more emotionally rich aspects.

While in places disjointed, 2 Jacks is unquestionably an interesting and worthwhile experience to be recommended. As a piece of Hollywood satire, it is quietly effective, with the casting of Danny and Jack Huston an inspired decision for both their lineage of Hollywood history and their strength in their reflective roles. Ultimately, 2 Jacks is an engaging, humorous and at times cunningly biting affair, but one that becomes somewhat lost in the maelstrom of those tainted dreams of desire and, fittingly, their fragility.

DVD Review: 2 Jacks
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul250190@gmail.com