Tag: charlie plummer

King Jack


King Jack (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Felix Thompson’s beautiful and engaging debut feature “King Jack” is a story about a teenager who learns the hard way how to care for someone else other than himself. It is told with patience, complexity, and searing honesty. The protagonist is a delinquent and immediately we ask ourselves why we should care for him and why he is worth following. And just as quickly we are provided answers—superficial, at least initially, but surprising and deep later on. Its fingers are right on the pulse of what most fifteen-year-olds care about during that time their lives: to make friends, to be respected, to be seen as individuals. So few coming-of-age films manage to avoid a false note. This is one of them.

Charlie Plummer plays Jack, a young man who struggles to make genuine connections with his peers. He has a crush on a girl named Robyn (Scarlet Lizbeth) but fails to engage her in conversation. And so he sends her a shirtless picture of himself via text. When she asks for a naked photo, he doesn’t think twice. Clearly, this is a boy willing to grasp at anything that remotely resembles friendship. Is he even aware he’s lost? His mother, Karen (Erin Davie), seems to pick up on it, but her priority is to make ends meet. Jack is confronted only when there are cuts and bruises on his body. But even then she fails to probe at what’s really going on. Perhaps she doesn’t want more headache. Without question, Karen cares for her son. But in some ways it is more important that she be able to put food on the table. I admired this take on a type of character too often pushed to the side in coming-of-age pictures.

We get a good look at where Jack and his family lives. They are poor but not destitute. There is no laughter in the home other than what can be heard on television. When Jack gets home from summer school, notice he doesn’t do homework. He drinks beer while playing video games. There are photographs hung on walls and picture frames sitting on shelves. The quality of the photos are poor, almost dim, blurry. You’d have to squint to appreciate the details. Notice that the pictures are at least five years old. It’s like time stopped when the father left or died. (We never learn what happens to him but his absence is ever-present.) Bright colors are nearly impossible to spot. They live in a blue-collar neighborhood where pretty much everyone knows each other. But the majority are not willing to speak up when there’s trouble. No one wants to be confronted, especially by the police. There is honor in silence.

When Jack is told that his twelve-year-old cousin, Ben (Cory Nichols), is going to stay with them for a couple of days because his mother “is not herself,” Jack couldn’t believe it. He doesn’t want the responsibility of looking out for someone else. Deep down Jack knows he can’t even look after himself. This relationship is the heart of the picture because the sudden change forces us to look at a selfish character under a different light: we get glimpses of Jack the good brother instead of Jack the rabble-rouser. But just because a new factor is added into the household does not necessarily mean big changes are in store. Trouble tends to follow Jack. A sadistic bully (Danny Flaherty) aims to give Jack a hard time at every turn.

Notice how the humor comes across naturally. No one has to fall down a flight of stairs or is required to partake in gross-out humor. Jack and Ben are simply allowed to be the themselves—with one another, with other girls; humor is born out of their chemistry. Mainstream comedies aimed for teenagers can learn a thing or ten from independent pictures. Sometimes a situation is funnier when it is allowed be instead of forcing it. Observe the rhythm and flow of the baseball scene. Of the truth-or-dare scene. Of the two cousins trying to rekindle that special connection.

“King Jack” possesses a dark undercurrent. It makes a strong statement regarding the cycle of violence in a way that is bleak but realistic—especially in a neighborhood where Jack resides. But Thompson ensures to provide a glimmer of hope. The ending works as a litmus test of what we think about how an environment can shape or scar a person. A part of me wants to believe Jack will be all right given he summons the inner strength to graduate high school, to get out of the small town, to find and pursue what he loves, and to experience a bigger world. But a part of me couldn’t help but consider he might not be strong enough. I hope that’s not the case.

The Clovehitch Killer


The Clovehitch Killer (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

“So you think your dad is the Clovehitch Killer?”

Here is a small and quiet suspense picture so confident with its premise—a teenager begins to suspect that his father might be the infamous murderer who has evaded the police for a decade—that nearly every passing scene, particularly during the first half, we lean a little closer to screen in order to capture and process every bit of information provided to us. Is our protagonist correct about his initial assumptions or is what we are seeing simply a case of a sheltered young man, raised as a devout Christian in a small town in Kentucky, who is unable to look at the big picture and so he ends up making a series of inaccurate conclusions?

Charlie Plummer plays Tyler, the teenager who is confronted by a girl he likes when she, sitting at the passenger’s side of his family’s truck, comes across a crumpled photograph of a woman tied up in a sexual position. Horrified and embarrassed, he claims the picture is not his but she does not believe him. Her body language suggests their date is over and she would like to be driven home. But Tyler knows precisely whom the picture belongs. And he intends to investigate the locked shed that his father, played by Dylan McDermott, frequents. It is in this moment that the film begins to gather momentum. Plummer shapes Tyler with an innocence so thick, we wonder should he end up facing the actual killer, would he even stand a chance?

The film is most tense during the investigative sequences: Tyler sneaking into the white shed at daybreak, finding a black box under a floorboards, looking closely at detailed blueprints, sneaking into a cramped place that welcomes visitors with a stench of death. Notice the lack of score or soundtrack. When a box is handled and contents inside move around the sound is deafening. When the camera focuses on photographs of suffering women who appear to be suffering, we could almost hear their whimpers. Great tension gathers during these drawn-out scenes because it is quiet and the camera is used as a magnifying glass. The threat of being found out looms from a couple of feet away.

Tyler is not the only interesting character. He meets Kassi (Madisen Beaty), the redhead with a reputation for sleeping with five football players. Pre-marital sex is sin in the eyes of the highly religious community. She hangs out outside the church to read. She also happens to be an expert when it comes to the Clovehitch murders; some might say it is her obsession. Kassi is the tougher of the duo, certainly less sheltered, and more communicative. I wished then that their partnership were explored further, perhaps injected with a bit of humor. While the pair’s chemistry works, at times it comes across as too safe, expected. It begs for another level of intrigue.

There is an interesting move about halfway through. That is, we leave Tyler’s perspective and the film focuses on the killer—or a possible killer: how he chooses his victim or “victim,” the stalking process, the rituals he feels he must adhere to, the objects in his duffel bag, the clothes he wears when he decides to take action. These details are shot in a matter-of-fact way. Emotions are muted; we are simply flies on a wall. To me, that is more unsettling than, for example, showing a hammer hitting a skull or a knife being plunged into another’s stomach. We feel the violence in the premeditation.

“The Clovehitch Killer” is written by Christopher Ford and he makes intelligent choices on a consistent basis—that is, until the last five minutes. The picture ends too abruptly with twists so knotty, one ends up staring at the screen with disbelief. Although it did not drop the ball completely, I did not buy into the final developments so readily because the majority of the work is so patient every step of the way. Thus, the conclusion feels off. It may have been more effective if the work were stretched past the two-hour mark. The denouement is rushed.

Lean on Pete


Lean on Pete (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Although the plot involves a fifteen-year-old boy deciding to rescue the titular racehorse from being put down because it is no longer deemed profitable by its owner (Steve Buscemi), it is not what the movie is about. It is about a young person without an anchor, without a home, and little hope for the future. The horse, I think, is a metaphor for his willingness to fight and take his life toward a direction that makes sense—even if the road required to get there may not make a whole lot of sense to us. I found it achingly beautiful, poetic, and moving.

“Lean on Pete” is based on the novel by Willy Vlautin—and it shows. Notice that nearly every single adult Charley (Charlie Plummer—perfect for the role) knows or comes across has been chewed up and spit out by life, from his own father (Travis Fimmel) who pays more attention to wooing women than ensuring the well-being of his son, a female jockey (Chloë Sevigny) who has had her share of broken bones but cannot seem to care deeply about the horses she rides, to the pair of young soldiers (Lewis Pullman, Justin Rain) who just returned from the Middle East. A humanist writer-director, Andrew Haigh underscores the loneliness and sadness that these characters attempt to cover up. So even when someone makes a cruel decision, we do not hate them for it. It can be interpreted that their actions are based upon what life has taught them.

And then we look at Charley—quiet, hardworking, smart, and not yet hardened by life despite the near poverty of his household. We suspect what might be in store for him, the challenges he will face once he takes the horse in the truck and drives to nowhere. Particularly impressive is how the second half rests on Plummer’s shoulders and there is not a moment that rings false. It is interesting how the writer-director keeps sentimentality at bay, often choosing to highlight the boy’s inner fire, his ability to push through even when he must sacrifice a bit of his innocence just so he can take one more step toward his destination, than the tough circumstances that plague his journey. Lesser filmmakers may likely have opted for tear-jerker moments.

I read somewhere that the movie is not for children—which surprised and frustrated me. I cannot disagree more; it is exactly the kind of movie, I think, that children will connect with, especially because they will have questions. But the questions, I think, will not be about plot points but why certain things are happening, why there is death, why children are neglected or abandoned by their parents. These are tough questions. I believe that those who think that the movie is not for kids are people who are not ready to face and answer the challenging questions for someone else. We often underestimate what children can process.

“Lean on Pete” is a story of a boy who does not have a home. He looks to the people around him: his father, a horse trainer, a jockey; to the gentle animal considered to be old and useless; to the strangers capable of both kindness and inhumanity. They offer no home. He even looks inside himself and finds nothing still. And so he forges on, looking to the past to see if remnants of comfort remain. As the minutes trickle away, we look at Charley, desperately hoping he’ll be all right somehow even if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for.

All the Money in the World


All the Money in the World (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation. — Anthony Burgess

Christopher Plummer’s eyes are the stars of “All the Money in the World,” a dramatic thriller involving a teenager (Charlie Plummer) kidnapped in Italy during the early 1970s and his grandfather who refuses to pay a cent for his ransom despite the fact that the old man is the most successful capitalist in the history of the world. Fascinating from start to finish, as a character study and as a genre picture, Ridley Scott directs his project with a highly meticulous eye, a great exercise of maintaining tension and breaking it as well as a statement piece of our relationship as a society when it comes to the paper we worship.

The veteran performer plays the character like a sphinx, elegant and full of riddles between the lines. The character, J. Paul Getty, is written in such a way that it is nearly impossible to like him because no amount of money is enough to satiate his craving for it. And yet Plummer has a way about him that makes us wish to know Getty beyond what he values. For instance, during the first act’s important flashbacks, his interpretation of the capitalist is rather grandfatherly with hints of warmth despite the armor he has learned to put on over the years because people consistently wish to take advantage of his wealth.

His level of performance is matched by Michelle Williams as the increasingly determined mother. Notice how she changes her affectations depending on the individuals she is surrounded by. Gail provides the opposite force. Because of where she comes from, which the script is smart not to detail in order to avoid melodrama, she values family over money. Getty knows this, in a way looking down on her for it, and so he finds ways to challenge her ideals. Will she break at the pressures not only coming from the crisis involving her son but also from the man who wishes to cheapen her worth?

Beautifully shot, the film looks as though a heavy fog sits right on top of images thereby muting the colors and creating a cold or detached feeling about it. Initially, I thought the strategy is to mimic the look of crime-thrillers from the ‘70s and not much else. Upon closer inspection, however, I believe such a technique is employed in order to establish an air of unpredictability, that anything can and will happen at a drop of a hat. As the knot begins to tighten, the mother increasingly beleaguered because her billionaire former father-in-law refuses to pay seventeen million dollars, a blip in his earnings, we start to wonder whether the kidnappers value the teenager as much as Getty values his ancient artifacts.

Based on the book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson, “All the Money in the World” offers an international texture about it, like those first-rate Korean and German procedural thrillers where you think you know where it is headed based on the mainstream Hollywood pictures we so often use as compass, but it goes on completely different directions at times. It invites thinking viewers to wade neck-deep into its dramatic presentation.