There is something deeply satisfying about watching a classic cinematic trope done well. The film version of Jasper Jones, the best-selling Australian novel of the same name by Craig Silvey, is a uniquely Australian take on the coming of age film, done very well.
In publicity material, director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae, 2009; Radiance, 1998) name-checks Rob Reiner's Stand By Me (1986) - the story of four boys in a small Oregon town who set out to find the body of a missing child - as a central inspiration. Other examples come to mind, including Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and, closer to home, The Year My Voice Broke (1987), both of which portray the messy collision of childhood idealism with the mysterious, cynical world of adulthood.
Unsurprisingly, given that Silvey co-wrote the script, the film adheres closely to its source material. In the fictitious rural Western Australian town of Corrigan, on the cusp of the 1970s, thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller) is roused from bed one night by a local mixed-race boy, Jasper Jones (Aaron McGrath), who asks for his help. Jasper leads Charlie into the nearby forest, to a billabong next to a large tree. From one of the thick branches dangles the body of sixteen-year-old Laura Wishart, Jasper's secret lover and the daughter of the local shire president.
Jasper maintains his innocence but knows the town's police will blame him regardless because of his mixed racial background and his reputation as a troublemaker. He claims to know the identity of the murderer, a local recluse, 'Mad' Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving), rumoured to have killed a woman many years ago, whose dilapidated wooden house on the edge of town functions as one of the story's key points of narrative suspense.