SYNOPSIS: Set in the township of Corrigan, Western Australia, in the summer of 1965, an unexpected encounter with Jasper Jones opens Charlie’s eyes to the world around him that is not as kind or as simple as he once believed.

CAST: Levi Miller (Charlie), Aaron L. McGrath (Jasper),  Toni Collette (Ruth), Dan Wyllie (Wes), Hugo Weaving (Mad Jack Lionel), Angourie Rice (Eliza), Matt Nable (Sarge)

DIRECTOR: Rachel Perkins
CINEMATOGRAPHER:    Mark Wareham, A.C.S.
GENRE: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

I really wanted to like this film.  The opening scene of an iconic Australian, dirt, country road as it stretches ahead surrounded by gum trees was a fantastic start. This film sympathetically records how beautiful and richly cinematic the Australian landscape can be, even if it suspends reality by using what is clearly a New South Wales landscape to represent the dramatically different landscape of Western Australia. But who cares? The foreigners will love it!

The movie is based on the book “Jasper Jones” written by Craig Silvey (co-Screenplay), although the film does not explore Jones beyond a few scenes. We learn about the world from Charlie’s point of view with his occasional interactions with Jones.

It remains a mystery why Charlie, who is white, shy, quiet and a generally well behaved 14 year old, would suddenly jump out of his bedroom window at night time, apparently without shoes, at the fervent requests of 17-year-old Aboriginal Jones, of whom Charlie has only ever heard bad rumours about, and clearly never had a relationship with previously.  It also remains unclear as to why Jones entrusted such a young man with a secret which could destroy his life if not handled carefully.  Why did either character automatically trust the other one?

There are a lot of big themes going on in this film: perhaps too much to squeeze into 105 minutes to do them all justice.  For example, the issue of racism towards Asians in the context of the Vietnam War was sympathetically explained, while racism to Aboriginals was not explained at all. Almost like one was more acceptable or understandable than the other.

Some of the more complex characters were skipped over far too quickly to afford the audience to understand them, most particularly, with Eliza. Eliza was meant to inspire sympathy but she came across as cold and contained which belied her tender age of 14 and her circumstance.

Hugo Weaving’s performance as Mad Jack Lionel filled the screen and defied the stereotype his character had been set up as.  Toni Collette, as Charlie’s mother, Ruth, gave an intelligent and honest portrayal which would resonate with today’s sensibilities, although given the era of the film would have been far more devastating than portrayed.

Sweet natured Aussie humor was sprinkled throughout the film avoiding the over-the-top “occa” humor that sometimes plagued Australian films from earlier eras, for which I am grateful. But this humor did undo the attempt to keep the film as a thriller.

The story has a number of distracting issues with regard to continuity: Charlie’s scratch which seems to disappear within hours; unrealistic lighting in the middle of the night in the bush affording Charlie the ability to easily read a handwritten note; Ruth suddenly buying a new car on her husband’s 1960’s teachers’ salary, are only a handful of mismatches which took me away from the story.

By the credits, this film seemed top-heavy, listing three Assistant Directors and even a Casual Assistant Director (whatever that means) but I don’t recall there being any reference to Continuity, which would explain a lot.

This is a gentle, sweet film akin to a comic book or a young teen’s storyline that has landed on the screen.  Absolutely gorgeous to watch, it is very much a white man’s nostalgia for the bygone days of an Australian community, which included an ingrained racism of the Aborigines: even the titular one is used as the foundation to talk about all the white fellas!

Don’t expect a sophisticated thriller or mystery with this film, and don’t allow yourself to get too caught up in the details or the politics – just let that beautiful scenery wash over you.

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