In 1993, two ten-year-old boys, Robert Thompson (Leon Hughes) and Jon Venables (Ely Solan) murdered a small toddler James Bulger. The news shocked Britain and the young boys were tried as adults for Bulger’s death. The two became the youngest persons convicted of murder in English history.
In the short film, Detainment, writer/director Vincent Lambe uses the recently released police interrogation tapes to recreate the events leading up to baby James death, and also recreate the actual interrogation of Thompson and Venables. The final result is something akin to a Law and Order episode (especially at 30 minutes). Except here the perpetrator is a child, and his defense lawyer is his parents. Actually, I’m sure this was an episode of Law and Order.
Detainment is a fascinating short film in two ways. First, is the case and the interrogation. The two boys are separated and interviewed by two pairs of detectives. We jump between Robert and Jon’s testimony and their accounts of the events and facts are constantly called into question. Remember, these are small children. As their stories change throughout, we ask ourselves are they deliberately lying or are they genuinely acting like scared ten-year-olds?
“The two became the youngest persons convicted of murder in English history…”
Second are the boys themselves along with the actors, who portray them. Like any good crime drama, the boys soon turn on one another. Of the two, Robert is the sociopath, expressing little emotion or remorse and quick to pin everything on Jon. On the other hand, Jon is the most emotional and most scared throughout the process. Ely Solan does a fantastic job being a scared ten-year-old who’s run through an emotional wringer. His performance is indelible.
To his credit, Lambe forces us to look at these kids as both adults and as children. A horrible murder just took place, and we see this constant intermingling of child-like behavior and the horrors of a very adult action. In Robert, we see a demon and in Jon a guilty, yet remorseful soul.
I try to keep my criticism focused solely on the final product. I’ll admit, though, I was a little conflicted walking away from Detainment. This is a real story, two young boys went to prison, and a real toddler died. As much as I questioned whether director Lambe was exploiting the boys, the victim’s family, and the story, I had to tell myself that at least he made a highly charged, emotional film. It’s gripping, engaging and frightening, too. Is quality a reason to tell this story? No, but it’s the conversation would have been profoundly different if the final product sucked.
Detainment (2018) Written and directed by Vincent Lambe. Starring Ely Solan, Leon Hughes. Detainment is nominated for Best Short (Live Action) at the 2019 Academy Awards.
7.5 out of 10 stars