Do you know what truth is?
Two ten-year old boys were placed into police custody in 1993 on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering the not-yet three-year old James Bulger in Merseyside, England. They were interrogated separately with parents present about their whereabouts on that fateful day and whether or not they were guilty of the crime. It’s unfathomable to believe children so young could have done what they did, but it’s even harder to comprehend them lying about it when the truth starts to spill out. These interviews were recorded and eventually released as a matter of public record with certain tapes remaining sealed due to the graphic nature of what was described. The pair served eight years with appeals of fair trial violations reducing their sentences before receiving new identities in the aftermath.
There’s no question they did what they did regardless of whether trying them as adults was handled the correct way. It’s a tragedy with far-reaching consequences when you think about the psychological ramifications and subsequent crimes upon release, but these perpetrators could never earn more sympathy than their victim. So don’t think Vincent Lambe‘s short reenactment of those transcripts might somehow be looking to give them a voice, assume remorse, or pick sides as far as who put whom up to homicide. Detainment is merely a fictionalized document of what happened inspired by the defendants’ own words. It’s a look at young minds and their ability to compartmentalize, skew facts, and elicit a reaction. We see defense mechanisms, stubborn plays at one-upmanship, and the resignation of coming clean.
It’s an impossibly arduous series of events to experience—especially as someone unaware of the case’s details. I’ve heard the name James Bulger (Caleb Mason) and had a dim recollection of his death if only because Jon Venables (Ely Solan) and Robert Thompson (Leon Hughes) became the youngest convicted-as-adults murderers in British history. Seeing their childish antics robbing stores and running around before spying young James alone outside the butcher shop doesn’t, however, prepare you for what happens next. You assume they left the toddler, accidentally watched him fall into a canal, or lost him before deciding to just go home. You assume Jon’s tears portray the truth as being simple just as Robert’s stoicism presumes possible premeditation. Just know there’s a reason that last interview remains sealed.
Lambe coaxes fantastic performances from these two youngsters going above and beyond to embody monsters that may not have a full grasp on what it is they did. Hughes’ ambivalence opposite stone-cold police officers is scary while Solan’s deluge of emotions would border on histrionics if not for the sheer terror in his eyes. You have parents slowly realizing what their boys have done while the detectives drop their poker faces to get to the heart of the unspeakable punishment little James endured. One boy defaults to using “we did ___” while the other keenly distances himself with a “he did ___” instead. Eventually the mask of innocence is torn off to reveal the most terrifying truth of all: evil has no prerequisites and knows no bounds.