NDP Leader Jack Layton was fluently bilingual, glib, sometimes flashy, full of energy and always media-friendly. He loved to entertain and uplift his co-workers with a strum on his guitar and spirit in his voice (which wasn't particularly good but he sang with gusto). Growing up in a political family, Layton was a left-wing Toronto city councillor for 17 years and spent a year as head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He became leader of the federal New Democratic Party in 2003. In his first election as leader the NDP won 20 seats and in the 2008 election the NDP was up to 37 seats. Jack was a happily married man, with wife Olivia Chow who stood by his side, and together they were a political dynamo couple very much in love to the end. Things changed late in the 2011 federal election when a surge in polls in Quebec held and the NDP won 103 seats, 59 of them in Quebec. The NDP became the Official Opposition for the first time in history. Going into the 2011 federal election... Written by
I saw "Jack" aka "Smiling Jack" tonight at the Manulife center cinema in Toronto as an invitation from Pier21 films. As fate would have it I arrived late and ended up sitting right across the aisle from Jack Layton's wife (Olivia Chow), his son (Mike Layton), his daughter, and directly behind Mrs. Chow's mother - a fact I did not realize until the end of the presentation, despite Olivia Chow's bright yellow skirt and suit jacket.
To begin let me say that setting aside partisan politics is far from simple. Even though this film does actively attempt to separate the two it does not completely succeed. That could, however, be the result of the indelible link in my own mind between Jack Layton "the man" and Jack Layton "the Leader of the NDP" - likely because he had become such an iconic figurehead of the NDP. I will leave my own beliefs out of this review and comment only on the quality of the storytelling and the picture.
The film begins clearly enough with a retelling of the events of the 2011 Election from the perspective of a fly-on-the-wall in the Jack Layton camp. Throughout the story events from Jack's life are interspersed to give the audience an idea of the experience that made him who he was, although such events were perhaps too sparse. Although I had some knowledge of him beforehand I don't feel like the film made enough effort to make the audience understand Jack's character - and the man that everyone respected, even if they didn't like him. Perhaps it is done as to not come off too preachy or pro-left, but that is only this reviewer's conjecture. The film is distinctly Canadian both in its triumphs and failings, with choppy performances by some of the supporting actors early on, which eventually faded as the film began to flow. The core actors were believable, natural (human), and even quite likable. Overall, the set design, stock footage, and choice of filming locations was fairly seamless, however living in Toronto and Edmonton, and having traveled extensively across Canada over the past 2 decades, I did feel that part of it was contrived (which makes sense since many scenes that were set in Ottawa and Montreal were filmed in Winnipeg).
In the end I was left with the vague understanding of Jack as a remarkably genuine, kind, and real person (with all of our frailties and aspirations) who was born into politics and ran with it. It isn't necessarily the story of a partisan leader or of politics. This film may appear to some to become more left-leaning toward the end, but you cannot separate the man's triumphs from the people and party who got him there. My advice is to watch this film with as little hatred or love as possible and simply enjoy the story of a great Canadian - may we be so lucky as to have more like him, especially in politics. What you think of the man is your choice, but neither you nor his opponents could deny his grace, candor, and humanity.
I'd like to thank Pier21 films for the invitation to view the first public screening of this film. I applaud you on your work.
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