Oz Film Festival: Jasper Jones Review
Corrigan, Western Australia, 1969. Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is thirteen years old, living with his parents (Toni Collette and Dan Wyllie). It's the Christmas holidays, and Charlie hangs around with his friend Jeffrey (Kevin Long) discussing which superhero is the greater, Batman or Superman. Then, one night, Jasper Jones (Aaron McGrath), an indigenous boy Charlie hardly knows at school, knocks on his window, desperate for his help. He takes Charlie into the woods, to where sixteen-year-old Laura Wishart is hanging from a tree bough, dead. Jasper is petrified that he will get the blame, and Charlie helps him hide the body. Come the next day, the police are searching for Laura, missing since Christmas Day. With a curfew for young people as a result, people are on edge. Charlie and Jasper try to solve the mystery of who actually did the crime, complicated by Charlie's increasing friendship with Eliza (Angourie Rice), who is Laura's younger sister…
Craig Silvey's novel, published in 2009 was a bestseller and award-winner and -nominee in its native Australia, and has been adapted as a play. Now, here's the film version, with the screenplay by Silvey and Shaun Grant, whose previous scripts included the rather less family-friendly (well, older-children-friendly, given some strong language) Snowtown and Berlin Syndrome. The director is Rachel Perkins, herself indigenous, in something of a change of pace from her earlier films such as the stage adaptations Radiance and the musical Bran Nue Dae. Beginning just after Christmas and ending on New Year's Day, Jasper Jones is spot-on in its evocation of a time and a place in a hot summer. The mystery of how Laura met her end, and who was responsible, is the means of some dark secrets coming to light.
The period setting allows the film to show the racism that lurks just under the surface: not just towards Jasper, but towards the Asian Jeffrey and his parents too – not least because the Vietnam War is on and one of the local families has just lost their son there. The film also gives time to the older characters. With quite some subtlety, we – and Charlie – gradually get to see the cracks showing in his parents' marriage, and the frustration of his mother in her housewife role and the feeling that life has passed her by. And there's also the growing bond between Charlie and Eliza. She aspires to be Holly Golightly, and her library copy of Breakfast at Tiffany's plays a part in the plot. (Charlie's reading another Truman Capote - In Cold Blood, as research for his investigations.) Meanwhile, town war veteran and loner Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving) knows a few things other people don't.
Jasper Jones is very well made, from the period detail I've already mentioned, to Mark Wareham's cinematography, to Perkins's direction. It's her best film to date, and clearly a work put together with considerable care and attention.
Jasper Jones was the opening night film at the Oz Film Festival in London. A future British release is to be confirmed.