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The Boys Are Back - Review

Clive Owen in The Boys Are Back

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

SCOTT Hicks’ adaptation of British journalist Simon Carr’s emotional memoir is a frustrating affair that never quite delivers on the sentiment you’ll be expecting.

Buoyed by an excellent central performance from Clive Owen as the single father at the centre of the story, it’s ultimately let down by the performance of its other main protagonist: six-year-old Nicholas McAnulty, who quite simply fails to generate the sympathy his situation ought to merit.

When sports writer Joe (Owen) loses his wife prematurely, he attempts to juggle sole parental responsibility for his six-year-old son Artie (McAnulty) with his career Down Under.

Matters become even more complicated when his estranged teenage son Harry (George MacKay) from his first marriage in England decides he wants to come and live with him.

Owen’s Joe is basically Carr by a different name and the tragedy that kicks the story into motion will tug at the heartstrings, particularly watching the anguish and heartache weave its way across the actor’s face. He handles the post-death scenes brilliantly and rivals his career-best work early on.

But the longer Hicks’ film lasts, the more audiences may find their patience stretched as Allan Cubitt’s screenplay flirts with our allegiance and sympathy.

McAnulty, for his part, loses us early on, failing to grasp the enormity of what his father is trying to tell him about his mother’s impending fate and seldom channelling the grief required to counter-balance his precocious outbursts.

And it’s these outbursts that pose the ongoing problem: Joe’s decision to indulge his children rather than laying down any rules or discipline leads to numerous scenes of him apologising to them when his patience finally snaps.

But while Owen has argued in press interviews that whatever brings the family happiness in light of such tragedy should be applauded, there’s a worrying – and even frustrating – naivety to the events as they unfold which seems irresponsible at best.

MacKay, as Joe’s older son, fares better and puts in a strong performance. But even his relationship with his father strains credibility at times – or maybe it’s that the film opens up a wider debate about the lack of parental discipline in society nowadays.

It’s a shame, for The Boys Are Back does still have things working in its favour: including some powerful and moving scenes between grown-ups and a commanding central presence in Owen.

It also refrains from overdoing the sentimental stuff, so that your tears are more deserved than manipulated. But overall it’s a mixed movie that somehow fails to resonate as deeply as it should.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 103mins
UK Release Date: January 22, 2010