Jack Irish is the lead character in so far four novels by Peter Temple: Bad Debts, Black Tide, Dead Point and White Dog. These two feature-length TV movies, broadcast a week apart in Australia on ABC1 in October 2012 (in the UK a month later on the FX channel) adapt the first two. Each is a self-contained story but there are character arcs spanning both movies, and a recurring supporting cast.
A pre-credits sequence sets up the premise. Jack (Guy Pearce), a Melbourne-based criminal lawyer, is visited unexpectedly by a disgruntled former client. Jack’s wife Isabel (Emma Booth) waits in the car outside…but the result of the altercation is that the client shoots her and then himself. After the credits, set to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand”, Bad Debts gets underway a few months later. Jack is trying to put his life together and is doing private investigation and debt collecting work. But then Danny McKillop, a former client, leaves a phone message for him...and soon afterwards turns up dead.
Black Tide takes place a little later. Jack's new girlfriend Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp) is off in Sydney in a high-powered TV journalism job and their relationship is coming under some strain as a result.. Des Connors (Ronald Jacobson), a friend of Jack's Aussie Rules football star late father, looks up Jack asking him to help to find his missing son Gary. But Jack soon finds out that Gary has gone missing for a reason.
Both films are very enjoyable crime thrillers, with plenty of twists and turns over the hour and a half each they are on screen. Jeffrey Walker’s direction is crisp and efficient but at the basis are well-tooled scripts by Andrew Knight (Bad Debts) and Matt Cameron (Black Tide), which take care to give plenty of business to the supporting cast: the three old guys, Norm, Wilbur and Stan (Ron Falk, John Flaus and Damien Garvey) in the local pub Jack sometimes uses as a second office, Simone (Kate Atkinson) the investigator who talks at 100mph and who is a fixture on the dating scene. The regular cast is solid, with Marta Dusseldorp giving some extra dimensions to what could have been a basic girlfriend role, and some big names turning up in guest roles. The 15 certificate for both movies (Australian ratings are MA 15+ for Bad Debts and M for Black Tide) would tell you that they take advantage of the small screen's allowances for violence, strong language and, in Bad Debts, sexual content as well.
But ultimately these two films are a star vehicle for Guy Pearce. Looking good in a suit, he gives a relaxed and engaging performance in a role which fits him like a glove. There are plans afoot to film Dead Point and White Dog, and that would be very welcome.
Bad Debts (99:42) and Black Tide (93:42) are released as a set of two single-layered discs, one feature on each, encoded for Region 2 only.
Both films were digitally-shot on the Arri Alexa, and no doubt was broadcast in HD in Australia. This release is standard-def DVD only, but as that camera (which captures up to 2.8K resolution) is used on major feature films (for example, Skyfall) as well as television, you can expect the results to look pretty good, and they do, with strong colours and solid blacks. Nothing to complain about here: I've no doubt this is how these two features are meant to look like.
Both features have a Dolby Surround (2.0) soundtrack, as per TV broadcasts. The results are pretty much front and centre, with the surrounds mostly used for music. There are no subtitles for the hard-of-hearing, which is a regrettable omission.
The only extra is on Disc Two, a making-of documentary (16:08). This is a fairly standard piece, made up of interviews with principal cast and the director, both scriptwriters and other crewmembers, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage and extracts from both features. Don't watch this before watching them as it contains some major spoilers, particularly for Black Tide.