Jasper Jones: NZIFF Review
A coming-of-age story, adapted from a Craig Silvey novel, that's carried wonderfully by its young leads, Aussie drama Jasper Jones is a veritable ripper.
Set in a quiet Aussie village in the late 60s and centring on Levi Miller's 14 year old Charlie, the story sees him thrown into being asked for help by the town's outcast Aboriginal Jasper Jones.
Jasper fears he'll be blamed for the hanging girl found in the woods (as he remarks tellingly to Charlie, "What was your first reaction?", a sign of the times and of the instant judgement of small communities) and so together the pair try to solve the mystery of the death.
But that's not all Charlie has to negotiate; he has a Korean neighbour whose lives are under fire because of Vietnam tensions, he has a mother who's frustrated and he has a burgeoning relationship with the sister of the missing girl to negotiate as well.
Seeded into the background of Jasper Jones are inter-racial tensions, friendships and relationships, even darker material that ventures dangerously closely to spoilers and a commentary on small town perceptions that's all too familiar.
But director Rachel Perkins doesn't stir any of these up for pure titillation; she merely throws everything into the mix to create a compelling whodunnit and a deeply layered story that has social commentary seeded all the way through.
While the adults do good work, notably Dan Wyllie as Charlie's dad, a mix of compassion and understanding obvious from an understated role, it's not actually their film in many ways.
It helps that the younger end of the cast - Miller, Angourie Rice (who plays the sister) and Aaron McGrath (Jones) shoulder the great burden of the darker edges of the script with veritable ease. It may be a familiar journey in some ways (growing up, realising death and darkness is all around) but what Jasper Jones manages to do, is to ensure these themes are freshly presented and subtly enacted.
Ultimately, Jasper Jones manages to be a compelling and diverting story that's as engaging as it is well crafted and it's a reminder that even the most familiar of tropes and genres can appear fresh when given a steady and strong directorial eye and a great cast.