Director: Vincent Lambe
Screenplay: Vincent Lambe
Starring: Ely Solan, Leon Hughes, Will O’Connell
Duration: 30 mins
BBFC Certification: no certification
Detainment is a short documentary style drama that tells the harrowing true story of two 10-year-old boys who were tried and convicted of the murder of a toddler in the early 90s. This short film is entirely based on transcripts of police interviews in an attempt to give an unbiased account of the lead up and subsequent murder of toddler James Bulger.
There is no doubt that writer/director Vincent Lambe has created a brilliant cinematic piece with his short film Detainment. He has mixed together various transcripts with dramatised scenes in such a way that the film serves to tell details without the need for gratuitous violence. It is also clear that Lambe has worked hard to convey both sides (murderers and victim) in such a way as to not cause further distress to either families. I can totally appreciate why the film has won awards and a standing ovation when screened at Cannes, but for me personally, I felt somewhat cheated.
Being in my early 20s at the time of the murder case, I was interested to know more about why these two 10-year-old boys had lured away an innocent toddler from its mother, whether the media stories from the time were accurate or significantly sensationalised and if there really was any remorse or understanding by the boys of what they had done. Unfortunately for me this is where the film failed to deliver.
Whether it is because the film is only a short snippet of events, or because of the way writer/director Lambe has chosen to disclose the film narrative, I came to the end of this short film wondering about its purpose. As documented in the film itself, some of the interviews and transcripts have never been released to the public and therefore this film was always going to have limited material.
In the opening title sequence, we are given a little insight into the lives and relationships of the two boys, ‘Jon’ (Ely Solan) and ‘Robert’ (Leon Hughes). We see them playing truant from school, stealing from shops and running riot around the shopping centre. This then cuts to a police interview room where we witness their interrogation and the story starts to unfold.
The majority of the scenes centre around the questioning of Jon Venables (Solan). Here we see a very frightened 10-year-old boy becoming more and more stressed as the interrogation progresses, his pleas of innocence and the reactions of his family. In comparison, the few interviews with Robert Thompson (Hughes) depict a boy standing strong and showing much less compassion and remorse for the killing, laying blame on Venables rather than admitting his part in the torture and murder. Again, we see the reactions and relationship that Robert has with his mother, and we start to build up a picture of his family background. Although Lambe’s intention was to simply give the audience the evidence as collected from the interrogation and allow them to come to their own conclusions, because of the nature of the evidence selected, what could have been a brilliant way to give an unbiased look at this gruesome and tragic story, still came across as bias.
One of the things I really liked about this short film however, was the way Lambe combined the interview scenes with the dramatised events. Lambe manages to get the balance just right with the scenes perfectly complementing each other. The harrowing scenes of the two boys luring away and torturing the toddler are mixed up in an emotional bowl of confusion as the interviews of the two boys progress. As an audience you are drawn between emotions of distress and anger and riddled with questions. What was going through the minds of these two children? How did they get to the point of murder? And most importantly, how is it that all these other witnesses questioned the boys about the toddler, but did nothing?
The most commendable aspect of this film is the acting. The acting of the police team (Will O’Connell, David Ryan, Morgan C Jones, Brian Fortune) and the mothers of the boys (Kathy Monahan, Tara Breathnach) were all convincing, but nothing when compared to that of the two lead boys. Both Ely Solan who plays ‘Jon’ and Leon Hughes who plays ‘Robert’ gave amazing performances as the two ten-year-old killers. Considering both actors were new to film, with Ely Solan having never acted before and Leon Hughes only just taking acting lessons at the time, their performances were totally convincing and stacked with emotion.
Detainment was never going to be pleasant to watch and I was prepared for that. If like me, you are looking to find out more about the case and get a better insight into the lives and motives behind the killing, you could be very disappointed with this film as it doesn’t really add any more information than is already available. However, it is a very good cinematic view of the lead up and murder of James Bulger, brilliantly acted and if you have no knowledge of the case and are interested in what the police interrogation bought up, it is definitely worth a watch.