First-time feature writer-director Felix Thompson makes one heck of an entrance with King Jack, an exceptionally powerful coming-of-age story that pairs the charm and heart we’ve come to expect from the genre with some especially intense and brutal drama.
The movie centers on 15-year-old Jack (Charlie Plummer). He doesn’t have many friends, lives in a rough part of town and is also in the middle of a heated feud with a nasty and sadistic bully named Shane (Danny Flaherty). On top of that, when Jack’s aunt falls ill, he’s stuck babysitting his young cousin, Ben (Cory Nichols). Much to Jack’s surprise, they wind up getting along quite well – that is until Shane and his buddies put Jack’s relationship with Ben to the test by exposing Jack’s insecurities.
King Jack’s got an abundance of quality components, but there’s no way this would have been the same movie without Plummer. He had a run on Boardwalk Empire and is currently on the BYUtv show Granite Flats, but this is the first I’ve seen him and now I’ll never forget him.
The first thing we see Jack do is tag a neighbor’s garage door and then right after that, he insults his brother (Christian Madsen) and gives his mother a tough time as well. Right off the bat you shouldn’t like him, but then Thompson expertly weaves in some heart, humor and juvenile innocence. It’s a unique mix of hot and cold, admirable and shameful behavior, resulting in a main character who feels real and especially promising within the coming-of-age story context.
And the same goes for the world Thompson builds around him, too. Rather than set the story in a quaint suburban neighborhood and surround the main character with a group of unpopular yet loyal and lovable friends, Jack’s got it rough in every respect. His family is barely getting by, nobody is stopping Shane from pushing him around and, on top of that, he doesn’t have any friends either. However, there is a girl who’s got a thing for him named Harriet (Yainis Ynoa).
The two of them have a particularly fresh dynamic that subtlety amplifies Jack’s transformation. Even though he’s a bit rough around the edges, she sees something in him and Plummer plays off that affection beautifully. There’s a truth or dare scene that defies all expectations and really puts Jack to the test. Rather than present Jack with the opportunity to get the girl of his dreams or be totally humiliated, it’s a scenario that could go either way, and Plummer is so expressive that a brief deliberation winds up becoming more suspenseful than some of the film’s more physical moments.
Nichols also deserves a good deal of credit for turning Ben into the ultimate (young) man of very few words. On the one hand, Ben’s like Jack’s shadow. He follows him around everywhere and further highlights that Jack’s on the cusp of growing up. However, even though Ben’s a good deal younger, he’s also got this charming maturity to him that makes him his own person as well. And the same goes for Madsen as Jack’s brother, Tom. The character easily could have become lost in a sibling rivalry cliche followed by an equally predictable turnaround, but Madsen strikes a delicate balance between tough big brother and caring authority figure that makes him a rich supporting character.
The one element of King Jack that might not sit right is the ending. Of course I don’t want to spoil the movie so I’ll keep this vague, but in the end, whether it was deliberate or not, Jack makes a decision that makes a statement about bullying. It isn’t the most appropriate message to send, but, in the context of this movie, this neighborhood and this situation, the decision he makes does make sense. However, considering bullying is such a sensitive and serious hot button issue, it won’t be a surprise if that choice takes a viewer out of the movie regardless of whether or not Jack’s decision is justified.
Clearly I did take note of that issue enough to devote a paragraph to it, but it in no way stopped me from thoroughly enjoying Jack’s story. He’s a good-natured, charismatic kid with an interesting edge to him, and Plummer makes him so accessible that it’s nearly impossible not to be moved by his journey to become a stronger person.
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