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Blu-ray review: 'Jack Irish: Series 1'

Dennis King Published: November 14, 2013

TV crime drama has increasingly become an international affair with American and British crime-busters now sharing screen space with world-weary gumshoes from such far-flung precincts as Sweden (“Wallander”), Italy (“Zen”) and Spain (“Falcon”). Now add Australia to the pithy locales trod by down-at-the-heels private eyes with murders to solve and personal demons to battle.

“Jack Irish” is a down-under detective series starring Aussie hunk Guy Pearce (“L.A. Confidential”) and drawn from a quartet of crime novels by former journalist Peter Temple. “Jack Irish: Series 1” collects the first two feature-length TV mysteries – titled “Bad Debts” and “Black Tide” – into a glossy Blu-ray package that showcases the slickly produced episodes like a high-class theatrical double bill. (The third telefilm in the series, “Dead Point,” recently wrapped shooting and is scheduled to air in 2014.)

With the likable, photogenic Pearce assuming the title role, the first episode, “Bad Debts,” quickly sets up the defining scenario. Irish was once a high-powered criminal attorney whose life and career were shattered when a disgruntled former client murders Jack’s lovely wife, Isabelle (Emma Booth), and then commits suicide.

Disillusioned and disheveled, Jack now holds down a series of dicey odd jobs, grifting horse races for his dubious new boss, Harry Stang (Roy Billing), and hulking bodyguard, Cam (Aaron Pedersen), spending off hours at the woodworking shop of the grizzled old craftsman Charlie (the late Vadim Glowna), and hanging out at a dive bar frequented by a trio of old coots who once played football with Jack’s late dad.

Pearce, often sporting several day’s worth of facial stubble, wears the role with easy, shambling charm, and it’s his sly, slightly ne’er-do-well demeanor that sells the character as an appealingly roguish knight errant.

The crimes of both episodes – uncovering corruption in church, police and government in “Bad Debts,” helping an old friend whose son has gone missing in “Black Tide” – are appropriately twisting and turning affairs. But neither is  particularly fresh or genre expanding. Call them serviceable vehicles that give Jack and his colorfully seedy circle of pals lots of gritty banter and interesting stuff to do.

In “Bad Debts,” Jack encounters a love interest in the form of aggressive local reporter Linda Hillier (unconventional beauty Marta Dusseldorp), who helps Jack with his investigation and naturally finds herself in life-threatening scrapes. Pearce and Dusseldorp both have a slightly frazzled wariness about them that makes them a good fit and allows them to throw off some sexy sparks.

If “Jack Irish” doesn’t break any new ground in the TV crime world, it does indeed offer viewers a earthy new setting for the usual formula to play out. And in Guy Pearce, it give us a charming, flawed but essentially noble bloke who’s fun to solve crimes with.

The Blu-ray DVD edition offers just one bonus extra – a “making of” featurette with cast interviews describing the process of turning Temple’s pulpy novels into feature-quality TV episodes.

- Dennis King