We've had a few dramas that deal with terminal cancer patients making the most of their limited time, including Hawks with Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards, and the recent The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson having the time of their lives. But when a film deals with young kids dying of leukemia then it becomes especially moving and heart wrenching. And that's what we get with Matching Jack, the first film in over a decade from the film making team of Nadia Tass and David Parker (Malcolm, The Big Steal, etc).
The pair have astute commercial sensibilities, and their films have picked up numerous awards along the way. For most of the past decade Tass has been working on television dramas like Child Star: The Shirley Temple Story, etc. Tass returns to feature film with this moving drama about a mother's desperate struggle to save her son.
When previously healthy Jack Hagen (Tom Russell) falls ill and is diagnosed with leukemia, he ends up sharing a hospital ward with Finn (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Finn's widowed father Connor (James Nesbitt) is eternally optimistic and up beat despite his son's illness. While waiting to find news of a marrow donor who could potentially save Jack, Marissa (Jacinda Barrett) discovers her husband's infidelity. Desperately she tracks down his former illicit lovers in the hope that one of his illegitimate offspring may be the match Jack needs. A strong friendship develops between the two boys, while Connor also comes to respect Marissa's strength and resilience.
What could have been an overly saccharine film is given large injections of warmth and humour. Working from a script penned by Parker and first time writer Lynne Renew, Tass deftly mixes pathos and tears with generous dollops of winning humour. There are a few bits that stretch credulity, such as Connor giving the two boys a ride down a hospital corridor on a bed transformed into a makeshift boat, and the boys going on a secret outing to Luna Park.
The film has been beautifully acted by the solid cast. Irish import Nesbitt is very good as Connor, and gives a sensitive, nuanced performance. Barrett gives a heartfelt performance as Jack's distraught mother. Richard Roxburgh is good as the sleazy David. While the adult performers are all good, it is the two young boys who give the movie its heart and soul and solid emotional punch. Russell (Last Ride, etc) is very good as Jack, while the consistently excellent Smit-McPhee (The Road, Romulus My Father, etc) is superb and continues to impress.
Matching Jack is a shamelessly manipulative tear jerker of the first order, and cinemas should hand out boxes of tissues with every ticket sold.
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