• Country: Ireland / United Kingdom
  • Initial release: May 30, 2018
  • Film Director: Vincent Lambe
  • Running Time: 30 Minutes
  • IMDB Grade: 7.1

In 2018, Irish director Vincent Lambe created a short drama film titled “Detainment,” which revolves around the infamous murder of toddler James Bulger in 1993. The film, nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the 91st Academy Awards, generated significant controversy and sparked intense debates about its portrayal of the young killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson. In this article, we will delve into the various aspects of “Detainment,” including its narrative, reception, and the issues it raises.

The Plot and Approach

“Detainment” provides a dramatized account of the police interrogations of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, the two ten-year-old boys responsible for the murder of James Bulger. The film primarily focuses on the intense questioning sessions conducted by the police, using dialogue that is almost verbatim from the actual transcripts. While the torture and murder are not depicted on screen, they are described in detail during these interviews.

Lambe’s approach is marked by a conscious decision not to speculate on the motivations of the young killers. Instead, he aims to showcase their confusion and the inherent challenges of holding children accountable for such heinous acts. The film portrays the boys reading comics and seeking comfort from their parents, allowing the audience to glimpse their ordinary lives and humanize them to some extent.

The Performance and Filmmaking Technique

The performances in “Detainment” are crucial in conveying the emotional impact of the story. Ely Solan and Leon Hughes, who portray Venables and Thompson, deliver nuanced performances that capture the complex range of emotions experienced by the young killers. Solan’s portrayal of Venables, in particular, stands out as a torrent of garbled emotions.

The film’s director of photography, Patrick Jordan, utilizes close-up shots to capture every twitch and grimace, emphasizing the intensity of the boys’ emotions. This technique enhances the overall impact of the film, making the audience more deeply connected to the characters and their tragic actions.

Controversy and Public Reaction

“Detainment” has faced significant backlash and controversy since its release. James Bulger’s parents expressed their anger and disappointment, feeling that they were not adequately consulted or informed about the film’s production. They launched a petition to revoke the film’s Oscar nomination, which garnered substantial support.

The controversy surrounding the film stems from the sensitive nature of the subject matter and the portrayal of the young killers. Critics argue that the film humanizes the murderers, potentially undermining the gravity of their crimes and causing further pain to the Bulger family. On the other hand, supporters contend that “Detainment” sheds light on the complexities of childhood criminal behavior and challenges society’s understanding of accountability for young offenders.

Revisiting the Bulger Case

For over 26 years, the murder of James Bulger has remained a haunting and deeply disturbing crime that has resonated with the public. The case has been revisited through various forms of media, including plays, TV documentaries, and newspaper columns. These explorations often center around the question of whether the young killers were inherently “evil” or if their actions were the result of their troubled childhoods.

The film “Detainment” adds another layer to the ongoing discussions surrounding the Bulger case. By re-enacting scenes from the police interrogations and providing insights into the boys’ lives, the film attempts to foster a deeper understanding of the factors that might have led to their actions. It challenges the simplistic notion of inherent evil and calls for a more nuanced examination of how trauma and troubled childhoods can contribute to serious crimes committed by children.

The Importance of Dialogue and Understanding

Vincent Lambe, the director of “Detainment,” emphasizes the importance of open discussion when it comes to understanding the motivations behind such horrific crimes committed by children. By depicting the child murderers as human beings, Lambe aims to move beyond the simplistic label of “evil” and encourage a more comprehensive examination of the circumstances that led to their actions.

In his film, Lambe presents the differing characters of Thompson and Venables, offering glimpses into their lives and emotions during the police interviews. This nuanced portrayal challenges the audience to consider the complexities of their individual experiences, rather than resorting to blanket judgments. Lambe, along with other experts in the field, believes that this approach is crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of how trauma and troubled childhoods can contribute to serious crimes.

The Role of Cinema in Promoting Understanding

Cinema has a unique ability to engage and empathize with audiences, allowing for a deeper emotional connection to complex and sensitive subjects. “Detainment” harnesses this power to provoke thought and encourage dialogue surrounding the Bulger case. By humanizing the young killers, the film challenges societal perceptions and calls for a more nuanced understanding of the factors that contribute to such tragic events.

Critics have praised the film for its intelligence, tact, and ability to generate empathy for the characters, despite their horrific actions. The performances of the young actors, combined with Lambe’s skilled direction, create a compelling narrative that prompts viewers to reconsider their preconceived notions about the case.

The Importance of Responsible Filmmaking

While “Detainment” has sparked controversy and criticism, it also raises important questions about responsible filmmaking when dealing with sensitive subject matter. The film’s reception highlights the need for open communication and collaboration between filmmakers and the individuals affected by the events portrayed. In this case, the lack of consultation with James Bulger’s parents has understandably caused pain and frustration.

Vincent Lambe has apologized for not involving the Bulger family in the making of the film and expressed his willingness to meet with them to explain his intentions and offer his heartfelt reassurances. This acknowledgment underscores the significance of respectful and compassionate storytelling, particularly when dealing with real-life tragedies.


“Detainment” is a thought-provoking film that dives into the complexities of the Bulger case, challenging traditional notions of good and evil. By humanizing the young killers, the film encourages a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to serious crimes committed by children. While it has generated controversy, it also opens up vital discussions about accountability, trauma, and the role of cinema in promoting empathy and understanding.

As society continues to grapple with the implications of the Bulger case, films like “Detainment” serve as reminders of the importance of responsible storytelling and the power of cinema to shed light on challenging subjects. Through nuanced portrayals and honest dialogue, we can hope to uncover a deeper understanding of the factors that shape human behavior and prevent such tragedies in the future.

1 Film Review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • “Detainment” has confronted huge backfire and debate since its delivery. James Bulger’s folks communicated their outrage and frustration, feeling that they were not sufficiently counseled or informed about the film’s creation. They sent off a request to renounce the film’s Oscar selection, which earned significant help.