Bookish 13-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), has lived his life pretty much oblivious to the racism entrenched in his community – until late one night he is woken by Jasper Jones (Aaron McGrath) and coaxed away from his bedroom into the bush.
Jasper is Indigenous (and, as a result, the town scapegoat) and he’s just found his white girlfriend Laura hanging from a tree. Fearing he’ll be blamed for her death, Jasper begs fellow outsider Charlie to help him hide Laura’s body.
Believing Jasper to be innocent, Charlie embarks on a mission to find the real killer.
With the story set between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1969, Charlie has his eyes opened to local prejudice and the discord in his parents’ marriage, while also managing to fall in love and discover the true meaning of bravery.
Director Rachel Perkins (Radiance, Bran Nue Dae) has stayed quite true to the novel, with the most significant change being the move of the year from 1965 to 1969 in order to amplify the tension surrounding the social issues of the day, such as the role of women and racism towards Aboriginal people and migrants, particularly Vietnamese refugees. The fact that the author, Craig Silvey, also co-wrote the screenplay with Shaun Grant has helped keep the film true to its origins.
As a fan of the novel, my favourite aspect of the book was the witty banter between Charlie and his best friend and cricket prodigy, Jeffrey Lu (Kevin Long). While at first their dialogue seemed a little stilted in the film, I was quickly swept along by Perkins’ straight-forward story-telling and clever exploration of Corrigan’s dark underbelly.
The young cast members are all brilliantly charismatic and easily carry the film, but it is the supporting cast that provides the solid foundation, allowing the young ones to shine. Hugo Weaving as a curmudgeonly hermit, Dan Wyllie as Wes Bucktin, Charlie’s reserved father, and Toni Collette as Ruth, Charlie’s loving but deeply dissatisfied mum, provide some of the most heart-breaking moments in the film.
Jasper Jones has been hailed as Australia’s answer to To Kill A Mockingbird, and while there are many parallels, this particular tale of racial prejudice told simply and candidly through the eyes of a young white boy is enriched by the vision and insight of Indigenous filmmaker Rachel Perkins.
This is a classic Australian story told with both depth and charm, and I have no doubt that the brilliant young actors will soon become household names.
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