Directed by: Rachel Perkins
Runtime: 105 minutes
If I had to sum up this film in one word it would be ‘eloquent’.
Based on the novel of the same name by Craig Silvey, Rachel Perkins (of Bran Nue Day fame) brings Jasper Jones, a compelling coming of age mystery, to life. The film is thoroughly grounded in a loving but honest representation of rural 1960s Australia.
The story begins with the disappearance of Laura Wishart, the daughter of Pete Wishart (Myles Pollard) a pillar of the local community, rocking the town of Corrigan. The people of Corrigan are ready to lay the blame on the mixed raced outsider Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), putting protagonist Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) on a mission to find the culprit. The tragedy pulls at the seams of the community and forces Charlie to compromise between being a good friend, son and Corriganite. From the first minute you are immersed in a real, lived-in world, instantly recognisable to anybody who has so much as driven through a small country town. By the five minute mark you are drawn into a discovery that will keep you invested until the very end.
The set design, costuming and location all come together with brilliant performances all round, especially from the child actors who do most of the heavy lifting. They are able to express the unique sincerity of childhood effortlessly, lending to terrific on-screen chemistry. This makes the contrast between how they act around each other versus when adults interject far more potent. They feel like children rather than child-actors. Special commendation to Miller for his instantly endearing portrayal of a bookish outcast. He is completely believable as a kind spirit, struggling not to let anyone down. While the terrific performances and meticulous attention to detail are great in and of themselves, the magic really happens when they all blend together. When Perkins wants you to feel isolated, apprehensive, or joyous, every element on screen makes you feel what she wants you to feel.
Before this turns into an outright rave, it must be said that the music composition fell short of the rest of the film. The score does not distinguish itself throughout most of the movie, and in the moments where it does rise to the fore, it overwhelms rather than heightens the dramatic tension. Another criticism would be that while the story touches on the darker features of our culture and history, some viewers might be disappointed that it does not delve further into them. Only the children comment on much of the injustice, effectively communicating how prejudices become ingrained and unquestioned, but your mileage may vary.
Like any eloquent oration it makes as much use out of silence as it does dialogue, which is a credit to both the writing (Shaun Grant screenplay credit) and actors. The characters say just enough – no more, no less!
This is a great film, and is well worth the price of admission. The finish might not satisfy those after a neat and tidy ending, but, like the rest of the film, it feels real.