Review: Jasper Jones

Best-selling young adult novel Jasper Jones transfers to the big screen. An engaging mystery boosted by its excellent cast.

Certainly striking a chord with young Australians, Craig Silvey’s 2009 YA coming-of-age crime yarn Jasper Jones has already been adapted for the stage by Kate Mulvaney. It makes the leap to the big screen care of Bran Nue Dae director Rachel Perkins.

Set in the fictional small country town of Corrigan in the mid-60s, The Code and Glitch actor Aaron L McGrath takes the title role, an indigenous teenager cast adrift by the death of his mother and used to being blamed for all that ails this close-knit and small-mined town. On discovering the macabre sight of his girlfriend hanging from a tree in the woods, he turns to stranger Charlie (Levi Miller) who he thinks is the smartest kid in school and might just be able to save him from jail.

An introspective kid who’s deeply surprised to discover Jasper tapping at his window late one night, Charlie’s more used to geeky debates over the merits of various superheroes with best friend Jeffrey Lu (Kevin Long). Nonetheless, he rises to the challenge, and the pair sneak around the rundown property of Hugo Weaving’s intimidatingly named Mad Jack Lionel, their prime suspect.

Set over the Christmas holidays with the town racked by simmering racial tensions, Charlie also harbours a schoolboy crush on classmate Eliza, These Final Hour’s Angourie Rice, while dealing with fraught familial relations between his parents (Toni Collette and Dan Wylie). Their amateur sleuthing is also hampered by the aggressive interference of Matt Nable’s cantankerous police sergeant, no fan of Jasper’s.

Working from a screenplay by Snowtown scribe Shaun Grant, Perkins’ caper adds up to an enticing mystery that’s handsomely shot by Clever Man and Redfern Now cinematographer Mark Wareham. The languorous pace of the unfolding drama results in a final act that feels a little rushed while still leaving unanswered questions, but impressive performances all round, particularly a sparky McGrath, ensure Jasper Jones is engaging at all times.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★1/2