Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
THE BOYS ARE BACK
Joe, a sportswriter, has a five-year-old boy living with his mother in southern Australia. He is often away from home and mostly sees Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) on holidays or the few times he can get away, but his life, as they say in the movies, is turned upside down by his wife’s passing from cancer. Suddenly he finds himself with Artie 24/7, a boy who doesn’t fuly grasp what has happened. (Artie, rambunctious but not annoying, asks Joe at one point if he can die so he can be with his mother again). On top of this, Joe’s teenage son Harry (MacKay), from a previous marriage, comes to visit and adds another ball in the air to Joe’s juggling act of being a single-father-widower and top journalist.
A friendship (but not quite romance, thank goodness for us hoping for a lack of contrivance) with a single mom (Emma Booth) happens in a fairly realistic context of Joe’s sudden grief and his learning to take care of his small boy. (We get the sense he left most of the rearing of his sons to their respective mothers.) An easy-going but firm parent, he has a philosophy of “just say yes,” meaning anything goes, except when he says so.
The source material is a memoir by Simon Carr, a collection of musings and thoughts and little anecdotes of a single father as opposed to a coherent narrative. But what unfolds is more of a character study about parenthood and the nature of a father-son bond that the director Scott Hicks mostly treats without too much sentimentality. He and his screenwriter accomplish, at best, something we don’t see too often in movies: a sympathetic father in a tough situation, and a little boy with his own complexities and nuances. (McAnulty is great at capturing the exuberance and frustration of a six year old, and is never less than genuine). And when Harry is thrown into the mix, the complex family relationships build as the drama becomes a father-son-brother story.
Clive Owen is perhaps the paramount reason to see the film. His performance is a minor revelation after years of action films (Shoot ’Em Up) and thrillers (Duplicity). Owen makes a character that comes with clichés—a tough, no-nonsense, sometimes drinker—fascinating to watch at every turn. Joe is sensitive and loving but only sparingly, as he also has to be tough and strong for his sons.
The film is
crafted with a lack of cynicism, with an eye for the way a family
times of trouble. But there are a few things
that keep The Boys Are Back from becoming a must see. A guitar score
by Hal Lindes pops up with an irritating precision, much akin to the
music of Brokeback Mountain, and it becomes old hat pretty
quickly. Also, Joe’s wife appears several times as a sort of ghost or a presence of comfort to give some advice or
to listen to Joe’s own fears, but it’s just
a hokey device, especially when we’re told that it’s not only Joe but
his mother-in-law who sees her. At the end, the dead wife gives Joe a
piece of encouragement regarding a convertible that had me rolling my
eyes. It’s a shame, because, otherwise, it is one of the finest family dramas I’ve seen this year.