Dan Brown, Community & Education Officer at Picturehouse, previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays title: King Jack.
Director: Felix Thompson.
Starring: Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen. USA 2015. 81 mins.
King Jack is the debut feature from American director Felix Thompson. The film won the Audience Award at Tribeca Film Festival, and was nominated for Best American Independent Feature Film at Cleveland International Film Festival 2016. Thompson won the Someone To Watch Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
15-year-old Jack (Charlie Plummer) lives with his mother (Erin Davie) and older, unsympathetic brother Tom (Christian Madsen) in a run-down working class town in Hudson Valley, New York. School’s out for the summer and with neither adult supervision nor friends to speak of, Jack is drawn to causing trouble.
Known more widely in the community as Scab (thanks to his older brother), Jack journeys through a succession of encounters demonstrating his fragility as a boy on the precipice of manhood. At the hands of his peers, family and a potential love interest, Jack endures emotional and physical bullying; his forlorn retaliations escalate his situation to breaking point.
When younger cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) is sent to stay with the family, it’s Jack’s job to keep him occupied. The two boys awkwardly bond and find friendship in one another. The sincere kinship and responsibility unlocks a different side to Jack: a playful teenager and almost would-be mentor to Ben.
This doesn’t last long, as they bump into older boy Shane (Danny Flaherty) and his gang. Jack and Shane clearly have a violent history and it seems to go back to Jack’s brother. After one of several altercations between Jack and Shane, 12-year-old Ben is caught in the crossfire and the cousins’ new-found friendship crumbles.
The film climaxes with Jack sneaking off to a party thrown by the girl he likes: tension, betrayal and conflict follow. Jack finally takes responsibility in the face of the relentless and violent Shane, and Thompson puts us helplessly right in the middle of it.
The film’s setting reflects Jack’s life: abandoned, uncared for and unkempt. Yet even here there is beauty. The distant hills shrouded in mist and the large industrial bridges over the river give us hope that there is more to life than the small place we find ourselves stuck in.
King Jack has all the tropes of a coming-of-age drama, but is a more a powerful, intimate and realistic portrayal of a young man at a turning point in his life. The young cast are outstanding and deliver a convincing take on the rites-of-passage story that we’re familiar with. It’s a frank look at life at that age.
If Larry Clark directed Stand By Me we’d get a film not unlike this one. Tense, powerful and real, King Jack reigns supreme.
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