|UK Release Date||26th Feburary 2016|
|Reviewed||2nd March 2016|
King Jack is a coming of age story that isn’t going to surprise anyone with it’s standard teenage strife storyline. However it does succeed with it’s hazy, dreamlike, sun-drenched visuals, an unflinching narrative and a great central performance from Charlie Plummer as the eponymous Jack; King Jack is a confident and accomplished first feature from writer / director Felix Thompson.
We first encounter our young anti-hero as he daubs that most wonderful of c-words onto a garage, as he puts the finishing flourishes onto the ‘t’ a man appears and chases him away. Here we get the flavour of what Thompson has in store for us in the visually dreamy but emotionally hard hitting King Jack.
Jack is literally fighting to survive in the tough existence he calls life. One may take his earlier his earlier act of bravado for a sign that Jack is a tough nut, feared and revered within the neighbourhood. It doesn’t take long for us to see this so so so is not the case. Jack is LOW down in the food chain. Living in a rundown house in a poor American town with his mother and older brother Tom (a doppelganger for daddy, Christian Madsen) Jack’s single mother struggles to make ends meet, clearly has love for her sons but is also being worn down by life. Tom doesn’t want anything to do with him. Welcome to Jack’s world, ain’t it a shame. There aren’t really any positive adult role models in this world and for a lot of teenagers I’m sure this is the same situation. There isn’t anyone for these kids to look at and aspire to. Jack himself is cute and charming but just cannot keep out of trouble, in fact if was a slogan it would be ‘tries hard but is easily led astray’.
Jack’s earlier artistry catches up with him along with his archenemy, local thick-headed bully, Shane - whose dad’s garage Jack was embellishing. This scene is painful in more ways than one. Anyone who, in their younger years, has been bullied or spat at or hit or anything else in front of other kids will feel every fibre of Jack’s beating. If this hasn’t happened to you then you are lucky, you’ll still squirm in your seat though, unless you’re the devil, or work for Donald Trump. So this is Jack’s existence and it seems like a cyclical one that is going to end in serious injury or prison, but then Jack’s younger cousin arrives to stay and Jack is forced to get on the path towards manhood quicker than he imagined. Ben is another teen with an unsure existence being forced to stay with Jack and his family because his mother is having a breakdown. Ben himself is pudgy and shy which makes him even more of a target for bullies, despite this Jack enlists Ben into his ‘antagonise Shane’ gang which starts off bearable and ends up taking a disparate and dark turn for both boys. We find out later that Jack's dad used to call him King Jack. How different his life as a 6 year old was with his dad in it to the one he is running towards now. Heartbreaking.
Charlie Plummer as Jack has a touch of the young River Phoenix and Jacob Lofland about him and portrays Jack with a straight as an arrow persona, he isn’t trying to make us like Jack, he is just presenting what this character is and what he is living with. It’s a great central performance and his angular, high cheek-boned face lends itself well to the mood of the film. Erin Davie is great as struggling mum and Danny Flaherty as Shane is on the right side of psycho bully. Christian Madsen a standout as older brother Tom struggling with his own inner demons. Cory Nichols as little cousin Ben is also extremely strong and I really enjoyed Yanis Ynoa as Harriet. It was also warming to see female teenagers of all colours and sizes represented as normal attractive females. What a shame it is that I even have to write that, that the depiction of normal girls is an anomaly. Sigh.
DP Brandon Thomas has woven a magical, radiant, hazy dreamlike world through which the horror punctuates. King Jack has undertones of My Summer of Love and The Virgin Suicides. The joyous moments, a bike ride, a chase where Jack is winning are ethereal and golden and the reality is stark and grey blue.
As aforementioned, King Jack isn’t breaking any ground here but it’s a brutal, honest and unflinching look at what it’s like to be a teenager. It doesn’t patronise and it does have some life lessons, beautifully shot and with great performances and a great soundtrack. Well worth a watch.