Feature Narrative Reviews

Jack Fall (2020) – 5 stars

Director: Michael Greenman

Writers: Michael Greenman & Nathan Coltrane

Cast: Kc Guyer, Dennis Fitzpatrick, Katie Michels, Jennifer Oswald

Running time: 51mins

Generally I try to avoid reading director statements before I see a film, because I am sad to say that I have become cynical in my advancing years. When I see that a story is “X years in the making,” I can’t help but start assuming what I’m about to see is probably the editorially confused result of a project being stuck in development hell – during which time it has probably been worked and reworked to the point any lingering charms have been crushed out of it. Against my better judgement, I scrolled just far enough to see “seven years in the making” at the head of Michael Greenman’s submission form for Jack Fall and immediately regretted it. “Here we go,” I mumbled witheringly to nobody in particular.

I know hitting 30 isn’t that old in the grand scheme of things – but it is often the point where people start to feel they’ve seen it all, that they’ve peaked, run out of shocks, or that it’s “all downhill from here.” Fortunately, once in a while, something comes along to remind you that there are still surprises around the corner, new wonders still to come, and precious memories still to be made. It is my privilege to write about the independent film scene for that reason; and by that same measure, I have been privileged to have seen Jack Fall. This was seven years well spent.

The story – collaboratively crafted by Director Michael Greenman and Director of Cinematography Nathan Coltrane – takes place in the wake of the sudden death of Katie (Katie Michels). Her husband Jack (Kc Guyer) is inconsolable, to the distress of his friend Allen (Dennis Fitzpatrick) – the small community’s wisened Sherriff, who has struggled to overcome his own losses in the past.

The central dynamic of Allen attempting to talk his surrogate son out of the depths of despair is brilliantly foregrounded by the feature’s opening scene – as he delivers a moving eulogy at Katie’s graveside. Fitzpatrick is pitch-perfect here – at the start of what turns out to be an utterly flawless performance, standing out even among an extremely able cast – setting the tone for the rest of the film in the process. During what could have been a pedestrian or even hokey speech in the wrong hands, encouraging people to allow a loved one to live on in our actions and memories, he exhibits a level of empathy and gravitas you simply can’t obtain without lived experience.

Allen’s voice audibly breaks, and he occasionally fumbles his words, or pauses tellingly to compose himself. As he tries earnestly to encourage the surrounding mourners, including Jack, not to let dark feelings of loss spoil the beauty Katie brought to their lives, it is clear he had been through this process for himself. The cinematography of the scene does a marvellous job of underwriting this sentiment – the black and white hues having been drained of colour, while the barren, scraggly field it takes in view is seemingly bereft of anything growing. Yet encased within this seemingly hopeless realm there is still life, there is still a community of people, who will continue to grow and influence others, as they in turn have been influenced by Katie.

Following the funeral, Jack continues to struggle with the isolation her passing has thrust him into. As the dark thoughts consume more of his mind by the minute, Allen begins to fear he may be unable to pull his despondent friend back from the brink – when suddenly a seemingly otherworldly intervention sees Jack handed an apparent lifeline: a fallen star with healing powers.

I won’t lie – I was fully convinced the film was about to veer off in a strange and not particularly convincing direction when this happened. It seemed like either this film might have undergone an unwelcome interjection from a producer a la Suicide Squad. Had something similar happened in Jack Fall’s seven years of production, where an unwelcome new plot strand echoing The Color Out of Space or Pet Sematary had been grafted on to a story that had initially about grief and regeneration – or where we were somehow going to be offered some grotesque saccharine happy ending where all’s well that ends well, and we ultimately learn nothing.

Just when the film seems to be listing heavily toward a rather improbable feel-good ending, however, Greenman and Coltrane’s story brings us crashing back to earth harder than the aforementioned meteorite. Piecing together non-linear fragments we have been presented earlier in the film, we are suddenly able to piece together the truth behind a series of fantasies we have been presented with – the product of a shattered mind in mourning, trying to recover from a massive trauma.

Like the best of Darren Aronofsky or Christopher Nolan, Jack Fall ultimately warns us of the dangers that present themselves during or in the wake of loss. The greater the love, the harder it is to go on when the life-force it was built upon is snuffed out – but in being consumed by grief, of despairing at future moments we feel robbed of, we risk squandering what we already have (something we would each do well to bear in mind when we find ourselves in a loving relationship of our own). In The Fountain, for example, Hugh Jackman’s character struggles to come to terms with his wife’s terminal illness, and wastes some of the time he could have with her on a futile scramble to cure mortality itself. In Inception similarly, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character becomes so desperate to be reunited with loved ones who have moved on he weighs up placing himself in a permanent coma. Both protagonists wrestle with their feelings of bereavement against a fantastical backdrop, with the injection of sci-fi or fantasy elements serving to frame their personal journeys and both manage not to lose sight of the core themes they are really about, despite these abstract methods – a breath-taking balancing act which Jack Fall has to be commended for also striking.

If I were to nit-pick, I would say one area where the film could improve is the way it is soundtracked. That is not to say Brian Minus’ score is bad – in many places it provides gorgeous, emotive wallpaper to the film – but much like Aronofsky or Nolan, Director Greenman has struggled to rein it in a little. It’s all very well having the bombast of a Hans Zimmer score, or the grandeur of Clint Mansell, but you must use them sparingly. Sometimes we as an audience need some space to breathe, time to consider what our own feelings are without a score dictating them to us. For this reason, the small pockets of silence in Jack Fall are often the most impactful – but these moments are sadly quite rare, as the score swells to accompany almost every minute revelation. On the other hand, the soundtrack is good enough that it is hard to hold it against Greenman for wanting to showcase it at every opportunity.

All in all, the only other ‘negative’ I can come up with is that Jack Fall is a sparse 51 minutes – and I feel like I have been wrenched all too abruptly from its beautiful clutches. I suppose I shouldn’t dwell too long on what might have been – however, and instead should treasure what I have experienced through this wonderful piece of art.

This is quite simply the finest narrative feature film we have received – it would be a travesty to hand it anything but a five-star score. I don’t know what the future holds for Greenman, Coltrane and co, who might well be sick of the sight of one another after a seven-year project, but I sincerely hope that they do continue to work together – and would be intrigued to see what else they come up with if that occurs. If not, then at least the suffering of Jack Fall led to the creation of something truly beautiful.

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