Jake Richardson | 3/03/2017
Australian murder-mystery Jasper Jones navigates away from many of the traps Aussie films fall into, but can’t break out of mediocrity despite strong performances from Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving and Levi Miller.
'Jasper Jones' is one of the most successful Australian novels of the last few years, proclaimed as Australia’s version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Craig Silvey’s novel is a coming of age story about Charlie Bucktin, growing up in the 60’s, in outback Australia where racial prejudice is rampant. He’s a young boy of 14, who is enthralled by books. One evening, he hears a knock at his window; it’s Jasper Jones – the town’s mixed race outcast. Jasper takes him to the forest and shows him the dead body of Laura Wishart, imploring Charlie to believe he is innocent. With his life suitably turned upside-down, Charlie embarks on a dangerous journey to find the real killer and prove Jasper’s innocence.
Rachel Perkins has adapted it to the big screen, and has done a reasonable job of it. With some big names in the cast, she keeps the story relatively tight; staying close to Charlie (Levi Miller) for the most part. It’s a relief, because when the story strays from Charlie it loses some of the cohesive tone. The strained relationship between Charlie’s parents in particular, along with the odd-feeling cricket game, bring in elements that feel disconnected from the murder-mystery tone Perkins works hard to establish. While these may have had a place in Silvey’s book, they don’t fit in the film with the aesthetic it is going for. As a result the racial discrimination which was so poignant in the book is lost in the film adaption.
While Hugo Weaving (excellent as Mad Jack Lionel), Toni Collette (as Charlie’s mother Ruth) and Levi Miller all give good performances, some of the other Australian cast show their inability to compete with these world class performers. In particular, Aaron L. McGrath doesn’t convince as Jasper Jones.
While Jasper Jones is overly long with strange tonal shifts, the core story is well shot and compelling, conveying a convincing sense of dread and with enough twists and turns to make it interesting.