The Boys are Back takes place in South Australia where sports journalist Joe Warr is dealing with the loss of his wife, and coming to grips with being a wholly unprepared single father. He decides in one stroke to adapt a new form of parenting, “Just Say Yes!”. This manifesto leads to a good relationship with his young son, but doesn’t completely deal with the issues the boy has at hand. To make matters worse, he transports his teenage son from London to Australia. The family dynamic has changed, and Joe must deal with all the consequences of his life; leaving a young son in another country, the loss of a young wife, and another son who isn’t coping loss normally. Along the way everyone must find their own way to deal with there personal losses.
The entire concept seems a bit depressing when read on paper, but the beautiful visuals and strong performances make this a very down to earth film. It never gets to the point where it seems a by the numbers sentimental look into the lives of others. So often films with this type of subject material try to pry our tears from us in an overly sentimental way. Fortunately Hicks has chosen to leave the sappiness behind, and portray his characters in a realistic and grounded way.
Clive Owen is brilliant as Joe Warr. Owen is the main factor that keeps us from going into overly familiar territory. His general demeanor gives him a toughness that is a light shining through the darkness. He is the anchor of the story in every way. If you’ve ever seen Owen in a film, you’ll know he is more of a tough guy actor, because of this it makes the emotional payoff much better when you start to see him unravel.
The sons in the film played by George MacKay and newcomer Nicholas McAnulty give the film it’s second edge. McAnulty plays the precocious six year old son, who lacks a bit of a filter. His energy and exuberance flies right off the screen, and really contrasts George MacKay’s performance as Warr’s son from another marriage. MacKay, which I’m sure many will notice shares a noticeable resemblance to Rupert Grint, plays Harry with a silent defiance to the father who left him in another country with his mother, but still craves his love. The issues of abandonment are some of the strongest of the film. The whole theme comes down essentially to loss. Joe and Artie must deal with the loss of wife and mother, and Harry must deal with the loss he experienced from his father.
There are a lot of emotionally charged moments in this film, and what really enhances this is the beauty of the cinematography. The tourism board in South Australia must be wetting themselves that their area of the world has been portrayed so beautifully. The scenic vistas only help to heighten curiosity about the film, and the people it explores. The Boys are Back shows why film is still such a popular medium. With everything going digital, film is becoming used less and less, whether to lessen cost, or because digital film provides a much crisper picture. This film light blooms in ways only good film stock can capture, and it makes a beautiful result.
The Boys are Back may not be for everyone. While the film may never go too far overboard with its emotions, it can get a little heavy for some. Not everything is separated into a clear concise way of a Hallmark card, but I for one found it refreshing. If you love films that are shot beautifully, and great performances than this is a film for you.
Another Take from Zac:
Scott Hicks’ adaptation of the memoir of a man left to raising his son after the loss of his wife seems like a depressing subject matter, but the results are an uplifting and unique look at parenting, whether you agree or disagree with the way he goes about things, and its delivered in a top notch performance by Clive Owen as the father in question.
Joe Warr is a British sports reporter living in Australia with his wife and young son. We are introduced to the family after Joe’s wife passes away and then flashback to the events leading up to her passing. We quickly see the bond among the family is strong and true and the couple is as happy as a couple could be. While attending a party, Joe’s wife is come over with pain and they discover she has cancer. After she passes, their son Artie does handle it well but by no means melts down, the problem is more on Joe’s side of things as he looks for some way to raise his son and to further there connection as father son as it isn’t as strong as it could probably be as Joe has traveled a lot as a sports reporter through the boy’s life. Added to all of this, Joe has a past life back in England where his ex-wife and son, Harry, from a previous marriage live and his connection with his other son is not terribly strong either. This leads to Harry coming to Australia to live with Artie and Joe and they begin to form a bond that they have both been looking for.
The film is heartfelt and quite funny at times with Artie supplying a number of laughs along the way. Joe takes on a very odd parenting style that will have you shaking your head and wondering if it might really work, which apparently it did since this is based off a true story. The film just floats through the lives of these three as they carry on in the world and run into obstacles along the way. Be it Artie’s grieving grandmother, tension from Joe’s ex back in England, or pressure from fellow parents on Joe’s ways, there is always a force acting upon the way Joe carries himself. The film is ultimately a character study of this family’s endeavors as they over come their obstacles and work towards a common goal of just being happy.
The film is also produced exceptionally with some great acting and directing that really makes these relationships feel real and true. The opening scenes of the film with Joe and his wife are heart wrenching, even with the short screen time we are given and we instantly feel the warmth of this family’s relationship that connects your to them over the course of the whole picture. The film also strikes that excellent balance of comedy and drama and does an excellent job of presenting the mind of a child, however dizzying it might be.
The acting in the film is what carries this picture to being as good as it is and it all begins with Clive Owen’s wonderful turn as this free spirited father. Owen is given countless obstacles and detractors along the way to work off of and does an amazing job being both serious but calm through the worst of times. You can feel his frustration even though he never yells, the pain of his loss runs under his skin and he is never once not believable in his sincerity; it really is a wonderful turn and change of pace from the other great roles we have seen him in over the years. Owen also works extremely well with the younger actors in the film and their bond feels authentic and true. The other real standout in the film is Nicholas McAnulty who plays Artie and is a wonderful little find by the creators of the film. Coming across as real as a child can in a film, he is crazy, quiet, and adorable all at once and you never know what he is going to do next. McAnulty really makes you forget you are watching a child actor as he embodies the character the whole time and never once comes across as a weak link, in fact he soars above expectations most of the time with his natural characterization of Artie. George MacKay also pulls off the abandoned son bit quite well and quietly gains confidence over time in Australia. MacKay gets to really show his range in the latter part of the film as well, but you will have to discover that on your own.
In the end, The Boys Are Back is a wonderful look at fatherhood and family and what makes those things great. Never sappy or sympathetic, the film feels honest and real to life through and through. Anchored by great work from it’s three main actors their bond quickly rubs off on you and you can’t help but be sucked into their world and feel for them along their path. Clive Owen shows his range and proves again why he is one of the best working actors in this story that while sad will have smiling by the end and laughing along the way.
The Boys are Back is a B+