It's Christmas 1969 in the small town of Corrigan, Western Australia. 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is woken in the middle of the night by Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath). Jasper wants to show Charlie something. That something is the body of Jasper's girlfriend, Laura, hanging from a tree in the forest. Jasper, a local boy of mixed race, swears that he had nothing to do with the death, but realises that his relationship with the girl and his outcast status will inevitably lead to a showdown with the authorities.
Charlie helps Jasper conceal the crime and the young duo set out in search of the truth. Following the disappearance of the girl, Corrigan is awash with rumours, and soon long-held tensions begin bubbling near the surface. Charlie must help Jasper evade the police, search for the truth behind the death, and conceal all of this from his friend Eliza (Angourie Rice), who happens to be the dead girl's sister. Charlie must also hide his activities from his parents, his other friends and the rest of the community, a community straining under the weight of the girl's disappearance.
Adapted from Craig Silvey's best-selling 2009 novel, Jasper Jones was directed by Rachel Perkins. The portrayal of small town Australia in the late 60s is rich and detailed. Although the focus is on the death of the girl in the forest and Jasper Jones' attempts to clear his name over the death, other subjects, like racism, marriages breaking down, and the claustrophobia of small town living are also examined. Infused with the heavy stuff, lighter moments, many of them centred around Charlie's friend Jeffrey Lu (Kevin Long), a cheeky boy of Asian background, are also common.
Levi Miller's Charlie steals the show, portraying vividly what happens when the carefree days of youth are shattered abruptly. Aaron L. McGrath's performance as Jasper Jones is just as good, and illuminates starkly the dangers of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Other notable performances include Hugo Weaving as the town's scary shut-in and Charlie's mother (Toni Collette) who is delightful as Charlie's flirtatious and somewhat unpredictable mother.
The fictional small town of Corrigan and the surrounding countryside (the movie was filmed in Pemberton, WA) are rendered beautifully on the big screen thanks to some gorgeous cinematography. The score is another highlight, heightening the foreboding as the pillars of what holds the community together begin to crumble. It all combines to make a stylish and satisfying film. One that's definitely worth your time.