King Jack, 2015.
Directed by Felix Thompson.
Starring Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen, Danny Flaherty, Erin Davie, Yainis Ynoa and Scarlet Lizbeth.
Jack (Charlie Plummer) is a scrappy 15-year-old kid stuck in a run-down small town. Trapped in a violent feud with a cruel older bully and facing another bout of summer school, Jack’s got all the problems he can handle. So when Jack’s aunt falls ill and his runty younger cousin (Cory Nichols) must stay with him for the weekend, the last thing Jack wants to do is look after him. Unfortunately, no one really cares what Jack wants.
Do teenagers even exist in the winter or do they just curl up in their beds and hibernate right through Christmas? Judging by the amount of teen indies set during the summer months, it’s hard to say, but the Tribeca Award-winning King Jack sets itself apart from the pack with an authentic portrayal of adolescence that’s never afraid to show how brutal teenage life can be.
From the outset, Charlie Plummer’s portrayal of the titular Jack is far removed from the entitled adolescents that populate MTV shows and the like, despite kicking the film off with some of the most outrageously provocative graffiti you’ll see this year.
On paper, Jack isn’t particularly likeable. Although he is the victim of serious bullying, everyone in Jack’s life seems exhausted by his selfish attitude and his awkward demeanour certainly doesn’t help. Praise must be given then to Plummer, who brings a natural charisma to the role, reminding us exactly why he was among the six actors originally shortlisted to play Spider-Man before Tom Holland won the part… Although you wouldn’t catch Peter Parker taking dick pics in the school bathroom.
Plummer’s performance centres the film, evoking River Phoenix and even Leonardo DiCaprio in his earliest work, but King Jack wouldn’t succeed without a strong supporting cast and a script to match. Fortunately, the predominantly teenage actors feel as genuine as the lead, seemingly plucked straight out of high school and thrown into the indie arena.
Performances from Jack’s mother (Erin Davie) and his adult brother Tom (Christian Madsen) impress, but it’s the scenes where the adolescent characters interact with one another where the film truly shines, demonstrating Felix Thompson’s natural ear for teen speak that flips from sensitive to funny or cruel in the blink of an eye.
Whether Jack is fending off bullies, struggling to apologise to his cousin or playing a cringeworthy game of truth or dare, Thompson’s script never talks down to its adolescent characters, pushing the adults aside to create a more grounded version of Lord of the Flies that could occur in any downtrodden neighbourhood across America. Thompson develops his characters naturally without resorting to the forced epiphanies that often characterise indies of this nature, refusing to hold back on the cruel reality of teenage life without letting a sense of gloom or helplessness pervade.
The cinematography straddles the same line, framing the run-down suburbia that Jack lives in with faded, hazy hues that find beauty within the harsh environment. Such an aesthetic could have ran the risk of romanticising scenes with an unnecessary sentimentality, but fortunately, the technique doesn’t permeate the entirety of King Jack, ebbing in and out softly during the films lighter moments.
King Jack isn’t perfect. The acoustic soundtrack could have been lifted from a dozen weaker coming of age stories, the bullying issue is dealt with in a questionable way towards the end and the basic narrative adds little to the genre, but King Jack is still an extremely promising debut from Thompson.
By adhering largely to the tropes of indie teen films, Thompson has proved himself to be adept at his craft, winning The Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival alongside Kiehl’s Someone To Watch Award from the Spirits. For his sophomore feature, Thompson should now capitalise on his potential by breaking free of the conventions typically seen within films of this ilk, stamping his own identity on this overcrowded genre.
Hell, if all else fails, Thompson should just set his next teen movie in winter. Such a brave move could capture the attention of the entire industry.
King Jack is available to watch in UK cinemas and VOD on 26th February. For more information, visit the official site here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
David Opie – follow him on Twitter, add him on Facebook or email him at email@example.com.