Directed by Rachel Perkins
Starring Levi Miller, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving, Aaron McGrath
Adapting a beloved book is always a perilous endeavour, and there is no doubt that the 2009 novel by Fremantle based writer Craig Silvey has become an Australian classic. Drawing on To Kill A Mockingbird for inspiration Jasper Jones tells of the growth of Charlie Bucktin in the sixties as he realises the small Western Australian rural town of Corrigin is full of secrets. Director Rachel Perkin’s takes a daring tilt at it, but will her efforts produce another Australian classic?
When Charlie (Levi Miller) finds town outcast Jasper Jones tapping on his bedroom window one night he is pulled into a murder mystery that will show him the darker heart of his small town. However Charlie doesn’t expect that those secrets and lies may extend to his own family (Dan Wyllie and Toni Collette), and change the sheltered life he once knew.
Following closely to Craig Silvey’s novel, Jasper Jones does a wonderful job of pairing a coming of age narrative, with Australian Gothic. Charlie’s emotional development is set side by side with the realisation that the town, even his own house, harbours secrets. Once that veneer is scratched away, things will not seem the same again. Jasper Jones’ late night visit is the catalyst for this, and sets the tone -both in terms of the atmospherics of the daunting tall trees at night (cinematically used to great effect to lend a sense of claustrophobia to the sequence), and the horrific crime.
To this end Perkins sets up a faultless sense of place. Filmed in the Western Australian town of Pemberton, Corrigin is recreated in a believable fashion immaculately dressed to the period. The bush is seen almost as an “other”, a landscape that encroaches on the town life, but offers something else (that is initially seen as daunting and terrifying). Yet it is not just the set dressing that forms the sense of place, it is woven deeply into the narrative of the story – the political climate of where they live, the wind of social change, the changing demographic of the town, and the inherent racism. All this is part of Charlie’s journey.
Levi Miller (Pan, Red Dog: True Blue) does a sterling job of acting as our point of view into this world. As a character that could so easily be lost as a cipher, he grants Charlie with a curiosity, intelligence, and rebelliousness that goes a long way into selling his role. In fact all of the young actors do well, holding their own against a veteran Australian cast. Aaron McGrath (Glitch) as the titular Jasper Jones has fire and courage, dealing with the racisms of the town while trying to clear his name. Angourie Rice (Nice Guys) is a likely star in the making (soon to be in the next Spiderman film) and clearly demonstrates why this is the case here, with a performance that is nuanced and at times heart-breaking. Which makes sense when you consider these performances have to stand with Toni Collette, and Hugo Weaving, who all bring something special to the film. Collette especially brings a complex and multi-layered character to vivid life.
A rare near perfect adaptation that will please fans of the novel, and interest those that have never read the book. Jasper Jones is great Australian cinema.