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New Release Review - KING JACK

A 15-year-old spends a summer seeking sex and avoiding violence.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Felix Thompson

Starring: Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen, Danny Flaherty



If you close your eyes and think of the words 'American indie cinema', the images your imagination conjures probably won't veer too far from those found in writer-director Felix Thompson's feature debut. It's a familiar package, but peel back the wrapping and it presents a few surprises.



If you close your eyes and think of the words 'American indie cinema', the images your imagination conjures probably won't veer too far from those found in writer-director Felix Thompson's feature debut. With grubby teenage boys wandering through a rusted Americana landscape, King Jack feels like it was made by the winner of an X-Factor style film-making competition judged by David Gordon Green, Larry Clark and Jeff Nichols. It's a familiar package, but peel back the wrapping and it presents a few surprises.
Our titular protagonist is 15-year-old Jack (Charlie Plummer), whom we first meet spraying the C-word on a garage door before fleeing from the owner of said property. Later, the son of that aggrieved home-owner, psychotic older teen Shane (Danny Flaherty), catches up with Jack, dishing out the latest in what we learn is a long line of beatings.
Forced to attend summer school, Jack is having a rough time. The girls in his class make the target of cruel jokes when the misplaced object of his affection shares a cellphone pic of his privates. He can barely walk through town without being set upon by Shane and his mates. And to top it all off he's forced to chaperone his younger cousin Ben (Cory Nichols), who is staying with Jack's family while his mother recovers in hospital.
In terms of plot, there's not much to King Jack, but as a character study of an aggrieved, emasculated young man it's an absorbing experience. Young Plummer plays the role with just the right balance of anger and sensitivity, and Nichols makes for a loveable cohort. The exploration of teenage sexuality is handled in a charming fashion, with none of the sleaze of a Larry Clark film. As the film unspools we learn the real reason behind the animosity between Jack and Shane, and it becomes clear both are caught in a seemingly perpetual cycle of violence.
At times the film threatens to enter Jack Ketchum territory, veering close to nihilism in its portrayal of these angry young men, but ultimately Thompson chooses not to venture down the path of misanthropy. We're left with a young protagonist who, despite his youthful flaws, we presume is going to make out just fine. On the evidence of his debut, the same can be said of Thompson.
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