Ben Tricklebank’s short film, Champ firmly catches you off guard with how nuanced it is regarding the strained relationship between a father and his aspirational son. A magnificent short that requires your attention and leaves you with a lot to digest.
It’s hard to be a boy when your dad wants you to be a man. Jake (Kingston Vernes) might only be 14, but that’s old enough to be a man as far as his dad (Drew Powell) is concerned. The only problem is that Jake isn’t sure he’s ready to grow up – at least not in the way his dad wants him to.
Being a child of divorce can be an incredible struggle, as Ben Tricklebank showcases here in Champ. Jake just wants to have an everyday life, and for all intents purposes, has his head firmly screwed on. Yes, his parents are apart, but he likes his mother’s new boyfriend because he is kind, and he wants to take a career that will involve a lot of effort and time. Nevertheless, he is far more assured of himself and his aspirations than I was at the same age.
However, there is a bearded stone in Jakes shoe in the form of his estranged father, Danny. Danny wants his son to be strong, and a man and is the atypical macho persona you would expect. He lives in a trailer in what looks like an abandoned warehouse. He lives the life he wants to, and he most certainly wants his son to follow along in his misguided path. With that said, though, there is a pain in Danny that is bubbling under the surface. When Jake talks about his future and his happiness with his mum, it hurts Danny. He wants the best for his son, and maybe it is the risk of failure and disappointment, but he doesn’t want Jake to take that “normal” life route.
The theme of isolation and being lost drives Champ. Jake is isolated from the safety net of his mother when with Danny. He knows he has to do what his father says as he is that good son. Equally, Danny has physically isolated himself, living far off and alone; he just wants to get by as he sees fit and hopes and pleads with the world that Jake can see his side of things and follow along his path, so he has a comrade beside him. Still, there is jealousy there; how can a 14-year-old boy have his life all figured out? Has Danny himself made a mistake, and is he willing to accept that fact if true?
This nuanced look to what could easily be a stereotypical distanced father-son dynamic is highlighted by the two very strong performances from Vernes and Powell, both exhibiting the confliction in their characters as they take this road trip. The little moments, like Jake glancing at his father’s hand to see the tattoo of his name on there, is gut-wrenching, especially after that ending. He is just a boy who loves and does not want to disappoint, and at a time when the adult should be guiding his son down the right direction, he instead leads him astray.
Yet for all of that, when we get to those last few seconds of Champ, you are honestly taken aback, and it is rare (especially nowadays) for a film to surprise you with where it ends up. By ending where it does, it amplifies all the discussion going on before it and leaves you wanting to watch it again to see if you missed anything. Praise must go to co-writers James Phillip Gould-Bourn and Ben Tricklebank for that, as when you think you have the film pegged, it firmly sweeps that carpet from under you.
Have there probably been countless instances of this? Sure, but it still hits you hard when it happens and to have it happen so abruptly in the manner that Tricklebank presents is a true shock. However, Champ has a message that sticks with you thanks to the atmospheric nature of the film and with those two leading performances. With hope, we will see a lot more of Tricklebank in the future as he is a talent whose work needs to be seen.
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