In the fictional Western Australian town of Corrigan, in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, 1969, thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin becomes involved in a town scandal. Fouteen-year-old Jasper Jones, knocks on Charlie’s bedroom window. Jasper is in serious trouble. The boys go to school together but they are not friends. Jasper is an outsider; a boy of mixed race, who has few friends. He thinks Charlie can help him somehow because he’s smart and he’s white. Jasper says he can’t go to the police for help; they have unfairly marked him as a petty criminal, because he is part Aboriginal.
Jasper takes Charlie to a place in the near-by bush, to his glade and here reveals a horrible and tragic secret that rocks the younger boy to the core. Charlie is a bookish lad who knows nothing of how things actually work. Helping Jasper reveals to Charlie the dark side of the town and its people. The strain of bigotry that runs through Corrigan becomes evident. The police are decent to Charlie but the brutality of their behaviour towards Jasper is unfamiliar and deeply shocking. Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey Lu is from a Vietnamese family. They are bullied by the town red necks in retaliation for the Vietnam War which rages on. Jeffrey deals with the racists through his love of cricket. He is determined to get into the Corrigan team and hopes his prowess with the bat will impress the close-minded townsfolk. He scoffs at Charlie’s interest in girls, in particular his fondness for their classmate, Eliza Wishart.
Jasper thinks the source of all his troubles is a hermit called Mad Jack Lionel. He’s an old man who lives on the outskirts of town. He takes to watching Mad Jack’s house. He’s determined to get in there and find proof that Mad Jack was responsible for the tragedy in the glade.
JASPER JONES is based on Western Australian author Craig Silvey’s award-winning 2009 book of the same name. The movie is co-written by Silvey and Shaun Grant and directed by Rachel Perkins (BRAN NEW DAE, television’s Redfern Now). The film is a close adaptation of the novel, which should come as a relief for the many high school students who will read Jasper Jones as part of their English course. Silvey has knowingly created a written work in the mould of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and this carries through to the film. It’s a coming of age story that deals with historical bigotry and small-town prejudices.
The child cast are solid; Levi Miller last seen in RED DOG:TRUE BLUE (2016) plays a similar role in a similar movie era, but deals with more adult material here. Angourie Rice doesn’t have enough to do as Eliza, but it’s good to see this talented actor back on an Australian set. Kevin Long is great as Jeffrey Lu. He is Charlie’s best friend but also the nicely-judged comic relief. Aaron McGrath brings a believable broken quality to Jasper. The adult cast are a well-credentialled bunch; from Toni Collette as Charlie’s Mum and Dan Wyllie as his father through to Hugo Weaving as the old hermit. These performances go beyond the requirements of a picture that seems aimed at a Young Adult demographic, but as the movie unwinds it becomes clear that this is a quality production for a broad audience. (Although, it is not suitable for small children, dealing as it does with murder and dysfunctional families.)
JASPER JONES has great drama, production values and a cracking Pemberton location. The film is an excellent Western Australian production that will entertain all ages and compel the attention of younger audience members. 8/10