Review by Jack Foley
DANIEL Radcliffe attempts to cast a different kind of spell over cinema audiences with December Boys, his first big screen break from the Harry Potter phenomenon.
The young star is clearly determined to prove there is life beyond Hogwarts and subsequently delivers a credible performance in this touching coming-of-age tale. But while there’s plenty to admire about Radcliffe, the film struggles to feel like anything more than a pleasant Sunday afternoon TV movie and may have difficulty finding a wide audience.
The film follows the fortunes of four orphans as they’re offered a trip away from their Catholic orphanage in the Outback to visit an elderly couple on the coast.
Once there, the three youngest boys (Christian Byers, Lee Cormie and James Fraser) quickly find themselves competing for the chance to be adopted by a young couple who aren’t able to have children of their own, while Maps (Radcliffe), the oldest, finds love with the enigmatic Lucy (Teresa Palmer).
Over the ensuing summer, loyalties are tested and the boys discover the true meaning of the term friendship.
Adapted from the novel by Michael Noonan and directed by Rod Hardy, December Boys is amiable enough in an old-fashioned kind of way but it doesn’t really leave that much of an impression, partly because the story has been done so many times before.
Attempts to introduce a mystical, even surreal element by giving Lee Cormie’s youngest orphan (Misty) the ability to see mostly religious visions are annoying rather than inspired, while a fishing subplot feels under-developed and tacked on.
The interplay between the four boys is believable but not evenly divided, leaving Christian Byers and James Fraser to fall by the wayside for long periods of time.
The bulk of the acting is therefore left to Cormie, who shows plenty of promise, and Radcliffe, who is very good even if his Australian accent isn’t always up to the same standard.
It’s a role that requires him to be a lot more introverted than Harry Potter, but he successfully gets under Maps’ skin and commands every one of his big moments to suggest there is an interesting career in waiting for him (just as he did in the West End in Equus).
Younger Potter fans will probably derive the most pleasure from the film, especially if they’re approaching the same kind of time in their lives.
Running time: 1hr 45mins
UK DVD Release: March 24, 2008