By Peter Bradshaw
Felix Thompson’s novella-sized debut movie grew out of the Sundance Creative Producing Labs and there are one or two attendant clichés. Sundance has a way of giving us indie-grunge tales bathed in a stonewashed sunset glow; violent blue-collar pastorals concerning the aimless, drifting lives of aimless, drifting kids. KING JACK is recognizably in that tradition, which might be said to have Huck Finn as its ultimate ancestor.
Jack (Charlie Plummer) has to look after his 12-year-old cousin Ben (Cory Nichols) for the summer: this means that both Jack and Ben will have to come into contact with a vicious local bully, Shane (Danny Flaherty). Yet Thompson’s film shows that Jack’s victimhood isn’t straightforward; it might have something to do with Shane’s history with Jack’s truculent elder brother Tom (Christian Madsen), who is now devoted to gambling away his small wages as a car mechanic. The performances of Plummer and Nichols have a sweet, open quality and this is an engaging coming-of-age story.
For me, KING JACK relies too much on violence for its dramatic voltage, but it’s a well-acted movie with heart – and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.