The filmic adaptation of Craig Silvey’s lauded Australian novel ‘Jasper Jones’ arrives with a serious heft of talent on board, but sadly the material fails to match, leaving this coming-of-age drama as a well-intentioned but misguided affair.
The novel was often compared to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, but it’s unlikely Rachel Perkins’ (‘Bran Nue Dae’) film will reap the same praise as the story feels at once too adult and too childish for its viewers; a murder mystery combined with a pre-teen’s coming-of-age hardly gel cohesively together. The story is interesting in itself though as the titular Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), a town outcast due to his White-Aboriginal heritage and rebellious lifestyle, quickly moves the plot along as he interrupts the slumber of young Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller, far too polished to successfully convey a boy from the bush in the 1960’s) one night, informing him of the murder of his girlfriend that has taken place at his outback residence.
Due to his reputation in the town Jasper is convinced the police (led by a wasted Matthew Nable) will pin it on him, so it’s up to eager Charlie and the murder victim’s sister (Angourie Rice) to try and work out what exactly has happened; the ultimate reasoning for the slaying is quite a dark and disturbing one, and had the film opted to maintain this murky tone throughout, ‘Jasper Jones’ could have potentially been a satisfactory mystery.
Sadly, Rice’s character seems more upset over Charlie’s inability to read her signs of interest than the death of her own sister, and Toni Collette’s arc as Charlie’s mother feels like it belong in another production entirely, with her odd shift in behaviour alluding to a broken mental state that is never acknowledged.
It’s hard to know if fans of Silvey’s book will respond positively to the film as it very much feels like a production where the written word conveys so much more than a performance is able to capture, though it is hard to argue with the film’s impressive calibre of talent (Hugo Weaving as a suspicious recluse and Kevin Long as Charlie’s eager friend Jeffrey are both stand-outs). There are moments that the film proves to work, particularly when dealing with the central murder case.
Jasper Jones is in cinemas now. Watch the trailer below: