Two ten year-old boys are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler. A true story based on interview transcripts and records from the James Bulger case which shocked the world in 1993.
Director: Vincent Lambe
Writer: Vincent Lambe
Stars: Ely Solan, Leon Hughes, Will O’Connell
There are some events in history that creative minds very rarely go near. This is particularly true of murders so shocking and horrifying that most empathetic folk react only with the rawest of emotions. The Moors Murders committed by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley and the serial murders of Fred & Rose West have both been dramatised for crime tv shows such as Deadly Women and Crimes That Shook Britain but very rarely adapted to film. Whether it’s out of respect for the victims’ families, an inability to create something meaningful or some other reason there are some crimes that are left untouched by film. One such murder case that up until now remained away from the big screen is the murder of Jamie Bulger, a toddler who was brutally murdered by two 10 year old boys Robert Thompson & Jon Venebles after they snatched him from a butcher’s shop. The case caused a massive debate over the treatment of youth offenders who commit serious crimes and sickened Britain. Making a film about this topic 25 years on runs the risk of being divisive at best and in supreme bad taste at worst. Detainment manages to avoid both.
Detainment is a film that is based solely on the transcripts and Police interviews conducted with Venebles and Thompson. It’s a 30 minute short film that not only shows the boys in interview but glimpses of their accounts dramatised for us to see the lead up to the murder. The team behind Detainment do a superb job of casting everyone involved in the interviews especially Thompson (played by Leon Hughes) and Venebles (played by Ely Solan.) Every performance is painfully precise in portraying every character as authentically as possible. There are no over dramatised evil moments from either murderer: like with the real interviews themselves, the behaviour of each boy speaks volumes on their own. Detainment shows the bare facts of the case without hyperbole. The interview rooms are bare and lit in the most basic of ways with no stand out colours to distract from the narrative at hand. It shows as much as it legally can without being a gratuitous gore fest.
The film achieves everything it sets out to: it’s effective, it tells the story very well and it’s structure is solid from beginning to end. In every respect it is a brilliant short film. Regardless of that, it is a very difficult watch and one of the hardest films to review personally. It’s been a quarter of a decade and the mere mention of the case can still instigate very emotionally driven reactions. I was only 5 months older than Bulger when he died and it was a case that caused my Mother – like many parents of that day – to be ever more vigilant with myself & my siblings. Detainment is a confronting movie by the very nature of its subject matter which makes it incredibly difficult to recommend to anyone to watch.
Showing that psychologically challenging topics can be shown on screen without being tasteless and the need for embellishment, Detainment is a well constructed but difficult watch