In a reflection of the real world, the realm of cinema has long been rife with stories revolving around bullying. The idea has permeated nearly every genre, and each takes a different look at the respective stories to be told. The themes centering around a bullying story allow for an in-depth look at the psyches of both the bully and the bullied, and when done correctly, these movies can prove to be both entertaining and impactful.
King Jack follows the titular character (Charlie Plummer), a teenage loner with a penchant for getting himself into trouble in his all-too-boring hometown. When his younger cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) is suddenly trust upon his small family, Jack's mother (Erin Davie) asks him to keep an eye on the boy for the weekend. Although initially abrasive, the two boys soon begin to bond over the simplicities of small-town life. They unfortunately stumble across some of the local bullies led by Shane (Danny Flaherty) who seems to have a personal vendetta against Jack. When the gang kidnaps Ben, Jack must decide whether he will continue to fend only for himself or if he will stand up to his tormenters and save his cousin.
The film premiered last April at the Tribeca Film Festival where it earned the Audience Award; it has since garnered relative acclaim from the critical community. With King Jack, first-time feature writer and director Felix Thompson puts forth a somewhat stylized version of the run-of-the-mill bully story that we have seen so many times before. The film is well-shot, adding to a nice atmosphere, but it is readily apparent that we have a rookie filmmaker at the helm. King Jack struggles with pacing issues that rest with its screenplay. For a film with as little story as this one, it sure feels as though the situations are dragged to their fullest extent, almost to the point of condemnation.
Thompson's early struggles as a writer also slip through the cracks. While the storyline itself proves to be decent, the characterization of our principal leads definitely leaves something to be desired. Aside from the titular Jack, through whom we see the story unfold, most of the ancillary characters lack any real depth, preventing us as an audience from caring about their wants and needs. Their backstories are skin-deep at best, and a little more insight to what makes them tick would have created a more fully-realized world. Eventually, Jack feels like a real person, but the rest of the cast generally feels like a group of shells hoping to break out and become fully fleshed individuals. This unfortunately presents a negative dichotomy between our lead and his supporting cast.
Charlie Plummer does a fine job bringing Jack to life, playing him with a quiet innocence masked by a harsh, grown-up attitude. He opens the film as an abrasive little punk who gradually starts to win the audience over as we begin to see beneath the seemingly tough exterior, and I have to give a lot of credit to Plummer for crafting an incredibly complex character that still manages to be relatable. Cory Nichols, who plays Jack's cousin Ben, proves to be the film's other standout; although he isn't offered much in terms of backstory, he manages to throw in a few quips here and there to keep pace with the slightly older Plummer and keep his character engaging. Flaherty portrays the film's villainous bully as incredibly over-the-top which stands in stark contrast to the general quiet that Plummer brings to the screen, making the difference seem all the more glaring. Sadly, the rest of the cast simply isn't given much with which to work, and aside from Jack, we simply never care about anyone else gracing the screen.
In certain ways, King Jack proves incredibly successful: for example, it creates a likable and relatable lead put in a situation that many of us - myself included - may have experienced before on varying levels of extremity. Because of this, I can firmly say that this is a solid debut feature for Felix Thompson, who brings an interesting - albeit unoriginal - style to the fray. He certainly stands to improve in the screenwriting aspect, but for a first go-around, I certainly think that this young director shows some promise. If he can work out the pacing issues that made this eighty-one minute film feel like a two hour runtime, then Thompson will be set going forward with his career. King Jack ultimately walks around as though it's a grander film than it proves to be, but there's still enough to like about this little film with a decent amount of heart.