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Australia 2017
Directed by
Rachel Perkins
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Jasper Jones

Synopsis: One summer in the late 1960s, Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), a lad of 14 living in a rural West Australian town helps an older part-Aboringal boy, Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), after the latter discovers the body of a local girl, apparently the victim of a murder.

Jasper Jones is based on Craig Silvey’s young adult novel of the same name.  As a young adult film, Rachel Perkins’s big screen version is a fine production, which, although I haven’t read the novel, feels like it captures the book’s youthful perspective and thrilling sense of a murder mystery with its typology of familiar characters ranging from, on the young person’s side, the bespectacled Charlie (his surname could have been Bucket) and his winsome platonic girl friend, Eliza (Angourie Rice), to the adult world of Charlie’s parents (Toni Collette and Dan Wyllie) and the scary old man living on the hill, “Mad Jack” Lionel (Hugo Weaving).   

As an adult drama it is less satisfying, the same dramaturgical clarity that is suited to a younger audience coming across as a want of subtlety, the darkness of the some of the subject matter which, besides violent death, takes in racism, infidelity and sexual abuse, notwithstanding. This applies to both Shaun Grant’s often too expositional script and Perkins’ direction, polished as it is.

Whichever way you look at it, the tip-top productions values are common to both perspectives. Herbert Pinter’s production design and Michael Rumpf 's art direction capture Hills Hoist/F.J. Holden era rural Australia superbly (although I do wish the cars hadn’t all been so spick-and-span) as does Margot Wilson’s costume design whilst Mark Wareham cinematography gives it all a suitably crystal clear realization and Antony Partos’s score is everything that a score should be, suggestive, sympathetic and never intrusive.

The same duality of response applies to the performances. Probably from a young person’s perspective they are all convincing. I however found Miller and Rice a little awkward and Toni Collette’s shrilly neurotic housewife overdone although I did chuckle at Dan Wyllie as her resigned spouse.  I’m sure however that both sides would agree that Hugo Weaving’s small showing is worth the wait.

Although a little too heavy-handed for adult viewers, taken on its own terms Jasper Jones is a fine film, both for its attention-holding story and its fastidious production values and one can only hope that it finds an audience. Of course we know what will happen  - Hollywood’s noisome nonsense will drown out its small voice -  but if you get the chance don’t hesitate to suggest it to any impressionable young minds in your care.




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