The best types of stories are about something. Although mindless escapism may be fun, most don’t have depth to make them memorable. Those cleverly interweaving a message within its narrative usually stay longer in audience’s affections. Based on Craig Silvey’s novel, Jasper Jones captures what makes a good story. Using the local Australian landscape to its advantage, Jasper Jones has several layers that can be enjoyed by all who like uncovering what makes people tick.
In 1969, Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is a young teenager living in a small Western Australian town. An outsider to his family due to his introverted ways, he is startled one night when woken by a strange noise. The cause of the disturbance is Jasper Jones (Aaron McGrath), a mixed-raced boy needing Charlie’s help. Wanting to solve a mysterious death, Jasper takes Charlie on a mission that will affect the whole town. Secrets and deception plague the boys as they learn to face their fears and grow into men.
Jasper Jones is a coming of age story without the clichéd connotations such a term uses. Whilst it follows the formula of Charlie becoming a more mature person, the film is more than that. It’s about being an outcast and not being afraid to be different. Settling for the expected norm isn’t always a good thing – a point well conveyed via Charlie’s mother, effectively portrayed by Toni Collette. She is part of a strong ensemble bringing to life a community full of suspicion and prejudices.
Director Rachel Perkins’ successfully develops a good sense of pace. Jasper Jones tells its tale within an appropriate run-time filled with drama, pathos and gentle humour. That isn’t always an easy thing to pull off and one she and the screenwriters do with style. Although primarily aimed at a young teen market, Jasper Jones doesn’t talk down to anyone with its mature tone reflecting the journey Charlie endures. The rugged scenery and soundtrack also solidify the remoteness and beauty of Charlie’s surrounds.
It’s always a pleasure seeing an Australian movie crafted with care. Jasper Jones slowly builds its atmospheric story forcing you to immerse yourself in its small world. Its messages are there for observant viewers to find with a screenplay ensuring it won’t be quickly forgotten.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 8