Levi Miller, Aaron L. McGrath, Angourie Rice, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving
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The movie adaptation of Jasper Jones is a well-acted and emotive evocation of time and place.
Based on Craig Silvey’s Australian coming-of-age novel of the same name, Jasper Jones exposes a town’s cruel underbelly through the eyes of its child protagonists.
Set over one Christmas in 1965, Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is woken in the middle of the night by Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), a rough-around-the-edges kid who is in desperate need of help after having found the body of his girlfriend, Laura, hanging in the woods. With Laura being white, and Jasper indigenous, he feels – in fact, he knows – that all fingers will point straight to him as the chief suspect. Hiding the body, he implores Charlie to help him find Laura’s murderer. This act of faith by Jasper causes ripples throughout the community.
Comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird are to be expected as young Charlie witnesses the prejudice that simmers in his neighbours. Was it unlocked by Laura’s disappearance, or has it always been there waiting for an excuse? The victimisation of Charlie’s friend, Jeffrey (Kevin Long), and his family, simply for being Vietnamese, would suggest the latter.
Directed by Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, Radiance), Jasper Jones almost effortlessly swings between the summer fuelled frivolity of youth and the oppression of adulthood. It’s a testament to Perkins that she wrings as much emotion out of a local cricket match as she does the film’s more heartbreaking revelations. At times though, the screenplay, co-written by Silvey and Shaun Grant (Snowtown), feels more like a series of vignettes than something cohesive, and it’s never really understood why Jasper would entrust Charlie with such a monumental task, outside of both of them sharing “outsider” status.
That said, the young leads, including Angourie Rice as Laura’s sister, carry the heavier material of the film well, particularly during its later scenes. Toni Collette, as Charlie’s frustrated mother, and Hugo Weaving, as the hermit Mad Jack Lionel, meanwhile, are both brilliant.