Jasper Jones: Hard-won battles of the heart

March 4, 2017

 

Jasper Jones (M)

Rating: 3.5 / 5

 

Thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) spends most of his days arguing about the virtues of male superheroes with his best mate Jeffrey (likeable newcomer Kevin Long). Jeffrey believes the answer obviously lies in the name—Superman.


Charlie—an avid reader—is not so sure. For him Batman is the one true superhero, not because he was born immortal (he wasn’t), but because he had to learn to overcome his fears. True courage, reads Charlie, “is resistance to fear, not absence of fear”.


Based on Australian author Craig Silvey’s bestselling Australian novel, Jasper Jones was first made into a successful stage show before being adapted for the screen. Director Rachel Perkins treats the material with great affection, but this doesn’t mean she sees it through rose-coloured glasses. 


Perkins, a socially aware director (and the founder of the highly successful Indigenous filmmaking company Blackfella Films), knows that beneath the friendly banter between Charlie and Jeffrey lie real issues dealing with moral character and fortitude. 


This is rural Australia circa late 1960s, which remains in the shadow of the former White Australia policy. And while social change and upheaval are in the air, even in the small dot of a town that’s Corrigan, as Charlie soon realises, it’s still far from easy being an outsider.  


While older than Charlie, Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath) obviously sees in the boy a kindred spirit. Being half Aboriginal, Jasper has always been on the outer, and one night he comes knocking on Charlie’s window with a desperate plea for help. 


Jasper leads Charlie deep into the forest and there Charlie sees something that will change his life forever. Caught between terror and sympathy, Charlie must decide whether or not Jasper is someone to be trusted or feared. 


One thing’s for certain, Corrigan—and its people—will never be the same again. 


It’s not hyperbole to say that this coming-of-age story is Australia’s To Kill a Mockingbird (as it’s been dubbed on more than one occasion). While Jasper sets Charlie on a dangerous journey of trying to solve a mystery before it consumes the entire community, it’s the personal relationships that the boy must navigate which elevate this story to the realm of instant classic.


And, like many small country towns, Corrigan has its mixed bag of characters. There’s the local police sergeant, known simply as ‘Sarge’ (Matt Nable), who has his eye on Charlie; the potential crush Eliza Wishart (Angourie Rice); and the lone Vietnamese migrant family, An and Kim Lu (Ferdinand Hoang and Gabrielle Chan, respectively) and their son Jeffrey, who each experience the sharp end of small-town racism.


And then there’s obligatory loner, the recluse with a dark past, ‘Mad’ Jack Lionel (played convincingly by Hugo Weaving).


Charlie is also at that age when he’s starting bristle against authority at home, and it’s this changing relationship with his parents and, in particular, his mother, the mercurial Ruth (played with incredible heart by Toni Collette), that fuels the latter part of the film.


Perkins has struck just the right balance between cynicism and nostalgia and, as we watch young Charlie stumble along trying to tell right from wrong, many of us will recall that some of our most significant battles during childhood weren’t with others, but with ourselves. 
 

Highlight: Toni Collette’s performance
Red flags: racial themes, some violence

 

Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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