September 15, 2009 / 1:11 AM / 8 years ago

Emotions ring true in family drama "Boys"

TORONTO (Hollywood Reporter) - Few films have so poignantly portrayed a father’s relationships with his sons as “The Boys Are Back,” a film by Scott Hicks that reminds you he once directed the luminescent “Shine.” For the first time since that magical feature debut, Hicks has invested heart and soul in a film project. Interestingly, it also is the first project he has made in Australia since “Shine.”

<p>Cast member Clive Owen from the movie "The Boys Are Back" poses for a portrait during the 34th Toronto International Film Festival on September 14, 2009. The festival runs from September 10-19. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>

The Clive Owen-starring film boosts such strong emotional pull that Miramax should reap good box-office coin domestically in adult venues. Although the film revolves around an all-male household, its good-looking dad could make this a chick flick that family guys will thoroughly enjoy. The Miramax film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, opens September 25 in Los Angeles and New York.

The film’s first half-hour is a bit weepy, which is somewhat misleading. The lively, insightful script by Allan Cubitt is based loosely on Simon Carr’s 2001 memoir of his life with two sons, each by a different mother, following the death of his second wife.

So though the movie sympathetically portrays the devastation that death brings to sportswriter Joe Warr (Owen), a loss that his son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), who’s barely 6, cannot process, the guts of the movie lie in a man and his boys’ effort to create a working, albeit unorthodox, household.

Joe and Artie live in Australia, but Joe’s older boy by eight years, Harry (George MacKay), lives with his mom in England. When Harry pays a visit, the three realize how much they love and need one another.

But conflicts arise. Artie, who had his dad all to himself, finds himself sharing his only parent with a brother. Harry has never understood why his father left him. Although he understands divorce and the fact that his dad had to move to his new wife’s home in Australia, it still feels like abandonment to him.

There also is the matter of the father’s “Just Say Yes” policy. Joe believes an all-male house should be, as he calls it, hog heaven. Perhaps remembering his own upbringing in England without any special fondness, he is as permissive as possible.

This leads to clutter and rumpled clothes that will make “Boys” something of a horror movie for many women. This also fuzzes the line between acceptable parent and child behavior. Which naturally leads to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Outside forces, all female, impact this loose nuclear unit. Joe’s mother-in-law (Julia Blake), still reeling from her daughter’s passing, possesses an edgy, overprotective streak. A charming divorced mother (Emma Booth) of one of Artie’s classmates loves to help out, but Joe misses the signs that she is looking for a more intimate relationship.

Then there is Joe’s deceased wife, Katy (Laura Fraser), with whom Joe continues to discuss their son’s upbringing. He doesn’t think this at all spooky. In fact, she offers good advice.

Owen has many excellent performances to his credit, but this is his most honest, natural and beguiling. You sense love and frustration as he struggles to do the right thing, as he struggles to balance his wishes with the needs of two very different boys.

To MacKay and McAnulty belong performances of such sweet naturalness that this family movie always feels like an actual family. Life often confuses the boys, and their dad, try though he might, isn’t always able to help. At least not at first.

Hicks builds the comic drama in meticulously observed, measured sequences from Cubitt’s well-thought-out script. He is alert enough to the surrounding landscape to frame his story with wonderful images (courtesy of cinematographer Greig Fraser) of the family’s rural home, nearby seaside, kids’ play areas, sports arenas and, in the U.K. sequences, a boarding school and rugby pitch. You enjoy just looking at this film.

Never does anything feel forced or contrived. Life, as this memoir reminds, can offer plenty of drama that need not abide by fictional formulas or genre conventions.

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