Starring: Matt Nable, Angourie Rice, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving, Levi Miller, Aaron L. McGrath (Rated M – 105 min).
Not your average adolescent yarn. Adapted from the longtime best-selling novel by Craig Silvey, this is a dark youth story that doesn’t shy away from issues not always discussed in coming of age tales of this courageous nature.
Set around an isolated Western Australia country town in the scorching summer of 1969, although the title is Jasper Jones, our main character is actually 14 year old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller). He is awoken in the middle of the night by an obviously agitated local mixed race outcast boy outside his window.
Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath) leads him into the nearby forest surrounds to observe something that will change his life permanently. Small town gossip is rife, unexplained missing persons and racial tension only build on circumstances reaching boiling point. Drawing from one incident leads into others that before now have been secretive among the townsfolk.
Falling in love comes out of the blue for Charlie when swift, smart, popular Eliza (Angourie Rice) gives friendship support and blooming romance in an unlikely manner. Schools across the nation have had the book as part of the curriculum for years although author Silvey has said he started from scratch writing the screenplay eliminating scenarios and characters while adding others for solid screen narrative.
It works largely due to the mysterious nature of the plot, sometimes too secretive with questions unanswered. However as an advocate of Australian film, risks are taken here to tell an often heartbreaking adventure.
Silver screen chameleon Toni Collette in anything is masterful, no different here. Talent Levi Miller, last seen in Red Dog True Blue (2016) and the unfortunate Pan (2015), is excellent as emotionally ridden Charlie.
Having highlighted her as a soon to be superstar in the 2013 film These Final Hours, marvelous Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spiderman-Homecoming) is towering as petite Eliza, award worthy performance in no uncertain terms and the scary thing is, I believe her thespian ability has only scratched the surface of greatness longevity.
Ambiance of sixties era clothing and architecture seems to have been perfected. Directed by Rachel Perkins, her staunch filmmaking also allows seriousness to be explored rather than holding back true indigenous issues and misinformed racial atrocities that still resonate today.
Shane A Bassett