The end of innocence
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.