Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones

(2017)

A knock at the window... their lives changed forever.

Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix), Levi Miller (Pan) and Aaron McGrath (Around the Block) lead this adaptation of the award-winning coming-of-age Australian novel by Craig Silvey.... More

In the dead of night during the scorching summer of 1969, Charlie is startled when he is woken by local mixed-race outcast Jasper Jones outside his window. Jasper leads him deep into the forest and shows him something that will change his life forever, setting them both on a dangerous journey to solve a mystery that will consume the entire community. In an isolated town where secrecy, gossip and tragedy overwhelm the landscape, Charlie faces family breakdown, finds his first love, and discovers what it means to be truly courageous.Hide

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BY cinemusefilm superstar

The classic Aussie country town thriller is a genre of its own with familiar ingredients that vary only in how they are mixed. Jasper Jones (2017) nestles into this space, blending a coming-of-age melodrama, romantic-comedy and a thriller mystery. By throwing in every genre ingredient it found in the pantry, success might seem assured … but maybe not.

The plot is drawn from the 2009 book of the same name. Thirteen year-old Charlie Bucktin is awakened one night by local Aboriginal bad-boy... More Jasper Jones who pleads for help in hiding a body. They swear secrecy in order to keep Jasper out of jail and set about discovering who is responsible. That’s the simple narrative path, with excitement provided by several sub-plots along the way, all of which will be familiar. The boys suspect reclusive old Mad Jack Lionel but their sleuthing exploits produce unexpected results; Charlie’s love-object is the mysterious Eliza whose family harbours dark secrets; best friend Kevin aspires to join a local cricket club that does not want immigrants; and Charlie’s high-strung parents are struggling in their marriage. All in all, it’s a typical Aussie country town with the usual list of caricatures.

Genre mashups can work well provided their elements cohere and the acting can carry the story, neither of which happens in this film. The separate sub-stories feel like a potpourri of disconnected ideas, many of which are left dangling unresolved. The titular Jasper Jones is little more than a background character who provides narrative continuity and a token symbol for racial tension. Charlie is the principal character and it is through his eyes we see the dysfunctionality of the town, his family, and his relationships. The film covers a lot of ground with a broad brush, touching everything lightly without penetration or depth.

For a story that deals with a gruesome tragedy as seen through innocent eyes, the film is remarkably free of emotion. The boys, for example, view the corpse with as much disdain as if it were an insect; Charlie’s crush limps from scene to scene without sign of a raised heartbeat; and Eliza’s mother learns the sinister truth with barely a grimace. In one scene, Charlie is punished for a minor disobedience by being forced to do something which defies logic, then the story moves on as if it never happened or was part of an absurdist Gothic tale. Charlie’s mother is the only character who shows any emotional range at all, but she is unstable and behaviourally extreme.

Jasper Jones has great cinematography that captures the iconic elements of outback Australia plus a stellar cast of Australian actors. Some have compared this film with To Kill a Mockingbird, a comparison that cannot seriously be sustained in a story that skips lightly over racism and country town small-mindedness. To keep its child-friendly rating, it also brushes over issues like suicide, marital infidelity, sexual abuse, and the persecution of difference. Despite several charming moments, the film struggles to be more than a moderating engaging montage of life in a dysfunctional Aussie outback town.Hide


The Press Reviews

  • Perkins, finding the sweet spot between childish goofiness and adult drama, keeps things fleet, funny, and just the right side of suspenseful; tonally, the film is a match for any Spielbergian 80s coming-of-age classic. Full Review

  • ...almost effortlessly swings between the summer fuelled frivolity of youth and the oppression of adulthood. Full Review

  • Miller beautifully portrays the uncertainties and sensitivities of a young small-town teenager, while Rice radiates youth and grace. Full Review

  • [Director Rachel Perkins] must maintain the sense of threat and danger without being too explicit. For the most part, she succeeds, supported by strong performances from a seasoned cast. Full Review

  • ...its diversions away from the murder plotline get increasingly frustrating, and the ending is maddeningly inconclusive. On the plus side, the acting is superb. Full Review

  • Centred on a 14-year-old boy caught up in a murder mystery involving a part-Aboriginal suspect, this outstanding adaptation of Craig Silvey's novel will appeal strongly to teenage and adult audiences. Full Review

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