King Jack

Release: Friday, June 10, 2016 (limited) 

[Netflix]

Written by: Felix Thompson

Directed by: Felix Thompson

Writer-director Felix Thompson’s first feature King Jack is a prickly little 81-minute production that shuffles through a nameless, shambling suburban block somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Rather than offering anything in the way of a traditional narrative, it provides a window into the life of a young boy who must contend with neighborhood bullies, summer school and his annoying younger cousin.

Low-key, meditative drama ponders the nature of fate and consequence in small-town America, swamps of socioeconomic stagnation that give rise to trouble-seeking behavior and juvenile delinquency. Thompson’s fascinated in this teen with idle hands named Jack (Charlie Plummer), first seen spraying graffiti on a neighbor’s garage. His home life is far from ideal, what with an absentee father, an oblivious mother (Erin Davie), and an older brother Tom (Christian Madsen) who calls him ‘Scab.’

It’s not just at home where Jack faces conflict. Because his brother was something of a jock back in his high school days, nicknames like ‘Scab’ and ‘King Jack’ have become a part of the language throughout a community where high schoolers never really move on. Thugs like Shane (Danny Flaherty) are intent on perpetuating that tradition. It’s their rite of passage, an inheritance of “duty” not that dissimilar to what you see in popular gangster movies. With Tom having moved on, and now floundering in the real world as a mechanic with a gambling problem, the baton has been passed.

An element of survivalism pervades and is underpinned by gritty solemnity, a toughness that helps King Jack divorce from other troubled teen-centric indies. Events take place over the course of only one weekend, and yet a large chunk of the story finds its beleaguered protagonist wandering the streets rather than hanging around at home. Jack is something of a curiosity. He tries, like most sane people, to avoid confrontation but unlike the majority he also doesn’t do many things to endear himself to others — the way he treats his cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) as a prime example.

King Jack may be slight but its realism is potent. If you find the film speaking to memories of where you grew up it may even be poignant. Flaherty’s performance in particular is outstanding, a damning indictment of the futility of resorting to violence in order to deal with your own internal pain. But it’s Plummer toward whom I was constantly drawn, a solid young actor who plays both the victim and the instigator — often to heartbreaking effect.

Recommendation: King Jack probably won’t do much for those who seek closure and finality in their movies but it’s a solid little coming-of-age drama whose events are effectively and often provocatively depicted. King Jack also operates as a powerful anti-bullying PSA and I’d actually recommend it more strongly on that basis rather than on the merits of its cast and up-and-coming writer/director. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 81 mins.

Quoted: “Leave me alone. You’re not my friend. So don’t try to act like it.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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