The end of in­no­cence

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY DON­ALD CLARKE TARA BRADY

KING JACK Di­rected by Felix Thomp­son. Star­ring Char­lie Plum­mer, Cory Ni­chols, Chris­tian Mad­sen, Danny Flaherty, Erin Davie, Yai­nis Ynoa, Scar­let Liz­beth, Chloe Levine. Club, IFI mem­bers, 81mins As Felix Thomp­son’s breath­tak­ingly as­sured de­but fea­ture opens, the 15-year-old epony­mous pro­tag­o­nist – known to al­most ev­ery­one as “Scab” – is spray paint­ing a naughty word on a school chum’s garage.

This is not, we soon learn, the ac­tion of a ca­sual delin­quent: it is rather, a last-ditch at­tempt to hit back at vi­cious lo­cal bul­lies from the bot­tom of the dog-pile.

Sum­mer is not look­ing like fun for Jack ( Board­walk Em­pire’s Char­lie Plum­mer). Con­demned to a re­peat term at sum­mer school, in­dis­crim­i­nately pur­sued by lo­cal brute Scott (Danny Flaherty, ter­ri­fy­ing) and his hench­men, and roundly mocked by older sib­ling Tom (Chris­tian Mad­sen, un­mis­take­ably the son of Michael, in both face and men­ac­ing swag­ger) at home, the only light at the end of the tun­nel is pro­vided by Robyn (Scar­let Liz­beth), who teases in­ti­mate pho­tos from Jack, only to show them to her friends.

Jack and his hur­ried mother ini­tially miss the phone call ask­ing them to take care of Ben (Corey Ni­chols), a younger and even more beat-up­pable cousin. The ar­rival of the re­cently trau­ma­tised young­ster only serves to es­ca­late hos­til­i­ties with Scott and his cruel co­horts. Can things pos­si­bly get any worse for the laugh­ter from even the most re­sis­tant so­cial jus­tice war­riors.

Now, the same comic di­rects his fire to­wards work­ing-class East-Mid­lan­ders. Why was it so easy to for­give Bo­rat? Why does Grimsby seem so de­press­ingly mean-spir­ited? Af­ter all, Nobby Grimsby, the anti-hero of this largely fee­ble spy spoof, is just as much an in­no­cent abroad as was Bo­rat Sagdiyev. It’s partly to do with the fact that, in Bo­rat, Sacha Baron Co­hen al­lowed the jour­nal­ist’s US guests to un­wit­tingly gen­er­ate most of the hu­mour. We also were aware that – filmed partly in Ro­ma­nia – the film wasn’t at­tempt­ing any mean­ing­ful par­ody of Kazakh- teen? But, of course.

King Jack treads a most fa­mil­iar path as Bran­don Roots’ cam­era fol­lows bikes ca­reer­ing through hazy sum­mer days. But the film – the best Amer­i­can comin­gof-age pic­ture we’ve seen since David Gor­don Green’s Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton – is far bet­ter than stani mores. Here, the comic, raised in West Lon­don, re­ally does seem to be look­ing down from a great height on his North­ern com­pa­tri­ots. More than any­thing else, the new film just isn’t very funny.

Raised in the town that bears his name, Nobby has spent 28 years booz­ing, shag­ging and pin­ing for his long-lost brother Se­bas­tian. He sticks fire­crack­ers up his arse. He lives for the na­tional foot­ball side. One un­likely day, a friend spots some­body he be­lieves to be the grown-up Se­bas­tian and dis­patches the layabout to Lon­don. It tran­spires that the other brother has grown into a se­cret agent its fa­mil­iar in­die- sch­mindie sub-genre ought to al­low for. Felix Thomp­son’s screen­play is a beau­ti­fully poised thing: here we find an hon­est de­pic­tion of ado­les­cent sex­u­al­ity with­out a hint of Larry Clark-brand sleaze and a ter­ri­fy­ing de­pic­tion of teen vi­o­lence, but mi­nus La Haine’s cau­tion­ary shock value.

Util­is­ing eye-wa­ter­ing au­then­tic­ity where Mud had poet­ics and Hide Your Smil­ing Faces had dreaminess, King Jack is never bet­ter than when trained on Plum­mer and Ni­chols, whose stone-throw­ing, bully-evad­ing mis­ad­ven­tures teeter be­tween child­like won­der­ment and bruis­ing adult­hood. slick enough to be played by Mark Strong. Dis­gust­ing may­hem en­sues.

There is noth­ing to the tit­u­lar cre­ation other than height­ened vari­a­tions on North­ern con­ven­tions. Ask any half-wit­ted drunk to im­per­son­ate a Grimsby man and this is what you would get.

The few laughs the film does gen­er­ate come dur­ing the most con­spic­u­ously re­volt­ing scenes. The bit with the shag­ging ele­phant stands out. The jokes about Aids are, how­ever, best for­got­ten.

Any­body else re­mem­ber the woe­ful Ali G film? We have gone through a com­plete cir­cle. THE TRUTH COM­MIS­SIONER Di­rected by De­clan Recks. Star­ring Roger Al­lam, Barry Ward, Con­leth Hill Klára Issová, Madeleine Man­tock, Tom Good­man-Hill, Brid Bren­nan, Sean McGin­ley. Cert 12A, gen­eral re­lease, 100mins Bri­tish diplo­mat Henry Stan­field (Roger Al­lam) is ap­pointed to head up a South African-style Com­mis­sion for Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. He stum­bles – foxy le­gal aid (Madeleine Man­tock) by his side – into a political mine­field, pop­u­lated by such fa­mil­iar types as provo­turned-min­ster Fran­cis Gil­roy (Sean McGin­ley), shad­owy MI5 op­er­a­tive ( Everest’s Tom Good­man-Hill) and the clearly sign­posted honey-trap hooker Krys­tal (Klára Issová).

In this ver­sion of North­ern Ire­land, folks speak with ran­dom, ge­o­graph­i­cal­lyun­sta­ble ac­cents and they are free to waltz up to those who are giv­ing tes­ti­mony – un­mo­lested by any­thing as in­tru­sive as po­lice or se­cu­rity – at the com­mis­sion and give them a right clat­ter.

Mean­while, just down the road, the com­mis­sioner’s es­tranged daugh­ter is preg­nant with her first child. Her work col­league just hap­pens to be the sis­ter of one of the re­gion’s “dis­ap­peared”, in a case that could po­ten­tially take down the rul­ing hi­er­ar­chy.

The un­com­fort­ably dra­matic grit­ti­ness of this plot­line is soon squan­dered in a screen­play that strug­gles to ac­com­mo­date too many par­ties and political al­le­giances into the shape of a movie. We’re left with shal­low char­ac­ters, sketchy plot­ting and loud, clang­ing par­al­lels: the com­mis­sioner is de­tached in life and pol­i­tics, get it?

De­clan Recks pre­vi­ously won over Ir­ish view­ers with the tremen­dous mid­lands drama Eden, which mined melo­drama from ev­ery­day do­mes­tic ten­sions.

There is, alas, no such sub­tlety or finely-honed nar­ra­tive here. DOP Michael Lavelle man­ages some strik­ing Belfast-based tableaux, but The Truth Com­mis­sioner has about as much busi­ness be­ing in a cinema as an episode of Paw Pa­trol.

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