Movie Review: ‘Jasper Jones’
Director: Rachel Perkins
Cast: Levi Miller, Aaron L. McGrath, Angourie Rice, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving, Dan Wylie
Plot: Set in 1960s small town Australia, Charles Bucktin is a young teen more interested in reading than playing sports. He’s surprised when outcast youth Jasper Jones appears at his window asking for help. Jasper’s girlfriend has been murdered and he needs to find those responsible.
Review: It’s hard to include the real story of this film in a plot summary. The hook is that Charles gets caught up in a missing persons case that he knows is a murder, but this event only serves to open his eyes to the very real prejudices and dark secrets held by his small town of Corrigin, and the cracks forming in his very own family. Corrigin is a few hours out from Perth, putting it well and truly in the middle of nowhere, and it serves as a microcosm of social issues that the young characters are only beginning to comprehend.
For starters there’s the titular Jasper Jones. A year older than Charles, Jasper is of mixed heritage being Aboriginal on his mother’s side. This leads to him being the immediate scapegoat for the people of the town and the authorities, and he’s worried that alerting the police to the murder is the same as signing a confession. Charles’ friend Jeffrey is Vietnamese and spends much of his time tuning out verbal abuse from the townsfolk. Even when he scores the town a win on the cricket pitch his family home is vandalised by self-proclaimed supporters of the war. It goes deeper, with hermit ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel being seen as a psychotic killer and Charles himself being considered an outcast.
Living in West Australia means the book that the film is based on has been highly visible since its 2009 publication. It’s found itself a spot in the school curriculum amid the many awards it’s collected. For those in the wider world (keeping in mind that most of our lovely readers are in the States) this may be unheard of, but don’t let that deter you. This is a well crafted film that perfectly encapsulates the culture modern Australia has emerged from without the hokey stereotypes. The social problems depicted still ring depressingly true today and appearances and accents aside they are international issues.
The story is top notch and it’s backed by a brilliant cast. Toni Collette is a regular in Australian features but certainly isn’t slacking off. She’s one of many complex characters we see through Charles’ eyes. Equally good is Hugo Weaving as Mad Jack, a small but pivotal role that allows him to deliver a show stopping monologue. The real stars are the young folk in the starring roles. Levi Miller plays Charles and he admirably carries the movie. More importantly, this is another great role for Angourie Rice playing the victim’s sister. Although she doesn’t get enough screen time, it’s an great and layered performance. We’d raved about Rice in indie film These Final Hours (undoubtably one of the best and least seen disaster movies made) and alongside Ryan Gosling in The Nice Guys (which, seriously, why didn’t you see it?). She is without a doubt one of the most talented up and coming stars in movies right now.
Great story, great cast…there really is little to fault here. There is a second act slump in the story while we’re waiting for the mystery to fully unravel. By the third time we see Jasper turn up at Charlie’s window and we get a wide shot of them walking down the same road it starts to feel repetitive. The characters and the way they’re developed over the course of the story more than makes up for it though.
Get yourself out to see this one before it’s considered an unseen gem.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN