‘Jack’s Back’ is a thriller, chiller

By Sean Leary

“Jack’s Back ” is one of the more compelling thrillers to be released in the past three years. It also introduces a few new twists to the contemporary detective story.

In the film a killer is recreating the Jack the Ripper murders to the last detail on the centennial date of each killing. The police are at a loss to explain the murders until a young medical student is fingered as the murderer after he dies in what the police believe is a suicide.

Matters are complicated when the student’s twin brother shows up at the scene of the crime claiming that his brother has been murdered. The twin, Rick (played by James Spader) claims to have ‘seen’ his brother John’s death in a nightmare at the exact time of his death.

The police are obviously hesitant to his claims, but he persists in clearing his brother’s name. He agrees to be hypnotised by a police psychiatrist to uncover any other psychic clues hidden in his unconscious. In doing so he eventually uncovers John’s murderer, as well as the ripper himself.

Along the way, Rick himself becomes a suspect, as well as the hunter of his brother’s killer. He investigates clues to clear his brother’s name, and with the help of one of his brother’s fellow doctors (Cynthia Gibb in a confident, strong female lead) he finally does, only to get more than he bargained for.

The film is effectively suspenseful and refreshingly original in its ideas and its characters. The characters are merely players in the larger plot of the film, but each is well-drawn and real. The secondary characters are given enough personal quirks to be charming, and the main characters of Gibb and Spader are made by exceptional performances.

Cynthia Gibb’s character is beautiful and sexy in her confidence and strength under pressure. It is a supreme compliment to say this role could have been played by a man or a woman. She’s far from the cowering, helpless token love interest; she’s a real, able, human being.

As for James Spader, his performance is simply another in a string of brilliant performances. Spader is without a doubt one of the most, if not the most underrated actor in film today. His characters are distinct: both interesting and well drawn, but convincingly twins beyond the physical resemblance.

Jack’s Back is a film that works on all levels. It is well directed, and exceptionally well-written and acted. It enjoyed only modest success when it was in the theaters, despite good critical reviews (Siskel and Ebert both gave it thumbs up) and is well worth your time on home video.