'King Jack': Film Review

Courtesy Tribeca Film Fest
A powerful portrait of teenage angst.

A troubled teenager is unmercifully bulllied in Felix Thompson's directorial debut.

Anyone who's had trouble in his/her teen years (and isn't that really everyone?) will find much to relate to in Felix Thompson's physically and emotionally violent indie drama. Although it feels all too familiar with its storyline about a bullied 15-year-old, King Jack boasts an immediacy that makes it compelling throughout. The winner of the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film should prove particularly resonant for teenage viewers even if their parents are more likely to come away horrified.

When first seen, Jack (Charlie Plummer, Boardwalk Empire) is spray-painting a particularly appalling epithet on a garage door in his downscale suburban neighborhood. That turns out to be not such a wise move, as one of the house's residents is the slightly older Shane (a truly scary Danny Flaherty), who along with some buddies exacts prompt revenge by similarly defacing Jack in front of his schoolmates.

We soon learn that Jack's home life is far from idyllic: his father has abandoned the family; his harried mother (Erin Davie) is too busy trying to make ends meet to pay him much attention; and his older brother Tom (Christian Madsen, a chip off his father Michael's block) is borderline abusive.

Things become even more difficult for Jack when he's tasked with keeping an eye on his 12-year-old cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) after the boy's mother has suffered an "incident." At first Jack can barely hide his irritation at having to shepherd Ben around, but the pair bond when both become prey to the vicious Shane and his cohorts.

In between evading their pursuers, the boys spend time with two of Jack's female classmates: Robyn (Scarlet Lizbeth), on whom he has a crush; and Harriet (Yainis Ynoa), who unbeknownst to him has feelings for him. The quartet engages in a randy game of Truth or Dare that includes Ben flashing the giggling young women.

Although King Jack is not strikingly dissimilar from the many thematically related films that have preceded it, writer/director Thompson displays a keen aptitude for conveying the vicissitudes and emotional turmoil of teenage life. As depicted here, it's a matter of survival of the fittest, with the victim often becoming the victimizer. The titular character is often unsympathetic, but even his worst behavior is made understandable, if not excusable, considering his fractured upbringing.

The film strains a little too noticeably toward poeticism at times, with the guitar-dominated musical score and magic hour cinematography bordering on cliché. But it's also often unusually harsh and unrelenting in its intensity. When Jack, superbly played by Plummer, is seen desperately trying to evade his tormentor on several occasions, you truly get the feeling that he's running for his life.  

Production: Buffalo Picture House, Dominic Buchanan Productions, Stink Films, Whitewater Films

Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment

Cast: Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols, Christian Madsen, Danny Flaherty, Erin Davie, Yainis Ynoa, Scarlet Lizbeth

Director/screenwriter: Felix Thompson

Producers: Gabrielle Nadig, Dominic Buchanan

Executive producers: Rick Rosenthal, Bert Kern, Nick Morton, Daniel Bergmann, Martin Forbes, Robert Herman

Director of photography: Brandon Roots

Production designer: Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise

Editor: Paul Penczner

Costume designer: Jami Villers

Composer: Bryan Senti

Casting: Avy Kaufman, Alan Scott Neal

Not rated, 80 min.