It can be genuinely nice to tune out the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood and all its mega-blockbusters & superhero-based movies - and step into the realm of something tangible, like a good ol' heartwarming drama. However, I think it can be extremely easy to get wrapped up in a bunch of special effects and flashy things happenin' onscreen - when we're all really searching for a story with which we can somehow relate. That's how I felt about "When Jack Came Back," a movie that felt like it could have been based on the life of someone you know, or perhaps even your own. Instead, the plotline generally deals with the bonds of family life and how fragile and unbreakable they can be. While it may be true that we all have seen a movie or two in our lives that deals with themes like that previously, "When Jack Came Back" was able to tap into a series of emotions and thoughts that gave a show like this the uniqueness it needed to stand out.
For instance, I thought one of the most significant aspects of "When Jack Came Back" was how the film was able to put us all in Jack's shoes and understand things from his point of view. I wouldn't go as far as to say the guy introduced to us is selfish - more like he's leading a very "me-centric" lifestyle when we meet him for the first time. That's something I think a great many of us can relate to for sure. But, I'll be honest with you, when we see and hear Jack (Mike Markoff) for the first time, I wasn't quite sure what to make of him – his overall performance grows in tandem with the character's arc in the story. I wasn't sure if he was trying to play an actor or an actor trying to play a family member as the movie started - and it's not until around the halfway mark that you begin to appreciate he's not doing either of those things at all. He's just a person trying his level best to figure out where he fits in life, whether it's professionally or personally. He was no different than you or me in that regard, so I felt like the understated performance he put into this movie became more natural the longer the film went on. And, of course, that's great! Mike plays Jack in a way that makes him remarkably human to us in a very endearing way - he's been humbled by his own situations in this story, but as a result, he evolves.
Other characters, such as Lindsay Wagner's Nancy, are an instant home run that needs less to convince you. She's dialed right into what makes the complexities of her part important on an emotional level and ends up delivering a ton of essential moments to "When Jack Came Back." I think one of the fascinating aspects of this film overall is the fact that we'd basically all assume it was going to be a story centered around the character of Barry, played by Lance Henriksen – but instead, writer/director Thor Moreno takes you down a completely different avenue that focuses mainly on the relationship between Nancy and Jack. From how it began to how it changes over the years, to how we view it by the end, and what that relationship between them really meant to each other as individuals. "When Jack Came Back" was practically unpredictable in terms of how much it ends up moving you by the end … which is, of course, partly due to the story's strength and a credit to the entire cast ensemble.
This is a movie that makes you examine your own role in your family as you step into Jack's shoes – and for those of you that have ever moved away to pursue your dreams in life, it sure makes you feel the gravity of what it can be like to go back. Whether it's by your own accord for a quick visit or whether you've moved back home to help with the health and well-being of your loved ones - the entire trip back in time can be one built of nostalgia and pain mixed in equal doses. They say you can never go home again, but this movie shows us that you can and proves you can be better for it.
If I had any criticism to share about "When Jack Came Back," I suppose anything I'd say would likely circle around some of the dialogue in the film. I get that it's a different part of the country and all, where cussin' ain't gonna be a large part of the way people talk – but there are still many ways to go about strengthening the way we communicate to each other when emotions are heated - without going down that road completely. There are some pivotal scenes in "When Jack Came Back" that could have honestly benefitted from a bit more of a break in character in that regard … like how when our own emotions are at their most overwhelming, we don't always do or say things how we normally would – make sense? I think of a movie that is a bit off the wall yet has a similar underlying theme to a degree, like "Hesher," – and you realize how many chances are taken in - telling a story like that. "When Jack Came Back" doesn't need quite to go that far, but there were moments where it felt like it played almost too safe in that regard by comparison. When things are as overwhelming as they become in life, especially when it involves family, we want to go right into the heat of the moment and the heights of the emotions - like we are experiencing them ourselves … to see people say and do things differently, because no one's really thinking, so much as reacting when we come up against those pivotal plot-points in our lives.
As far as the ending was concerned? It felt a little bit like Thor was searching for the right spot to conclude this story. We get what seems like a couple of points before the ending where "When Jack Came Back" could have wrapped up on a more potent and memorable moment in the story rather than searching for a delicate way to finish things. That's the tricky thing about movies based on reality, though. At some point, there has to be an ending when ultimately, we know things continue … so "where" to actually finish a story becomes a lot more complex than anyone outside of the industry would realize. I felt like Moreno eventually got to a place that made sense, even if I might have been tempted to call cut and wrap it up right after the remarkable scene shared by Nancy and Jack in the car. However, I'd still say that the ending of "When Jack Came Back" made sense logically and was genuinely satisfying.
I'm going to give this film a solid three and a half stars out of five – it's got a lot of heart at the core of its story, commendable performances, and makes excellent use of its characters in a very relatable, authentic, and sincerely thought-provoking way that'll have you wondering about what your next trip home will be like.