Film review – The Boys Are Back (2009)

11 November 2009
TheBoysAreBackPic#01

Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) and Joe Warr (Clive Owen)

Shine and Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts director Scott Hicks returns to Australia with this UK/Australian production based on Simon Carr’s memoir The Boys Are Back In Town. Clive Owen plays Joe Warr, an English sportswriter living with his family in Australia in what the early stages of the film depict as an almost completely idyllic domestic bliss. After the death of his wife, Joe is left to raise his 6-year-old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) and then also Harry (George MacKay), his 14-year-old son from a previous marriage. Joe copes with his loss, fatherhood and his new responsibilities by adopting a “Just Say Yes” policy of no rule making. The almost complete lack of discipline results in a home environment that is partially wickedly anarchic and fun but also increasingly unsettling in its recklessness and declining standards.

The Boys are Back is a film that peaks very early with a truly astonishing portrayal of a family responding to the decline and then death of a loved one. Scott avoids repetitive scenes of weeping and wailing so that when characters do breakdown it is at moments where it really counts. Owen plays Joe perfectly, embodying a man who is trying to appear strong and stoic while his world collapses around him. He is a man with avoidance issues who is emotionally distant from his sons but has a genuine desire to connect with them, despite the debatable methods that he uses to do so. His lack of concern for the safety of his sons will traumatise some audience members while delighting others.

TheBoysAreBackPic#08Unfortunately as The Boys are Back develops it never manages to sustain the same intense engagement that the opening scenes commanded. There is an interesting dynamic between Joe, Artie and Nicholas but it never amounts to anything truly substantial. The characters evolve adequately and the film contains its necessary crisis points but it feels all a bit too safely played out. A romantic subplot goes nowhere and some of the secondary characters lack depth. Joe’s mother-in-law Barbara (Julia Blake), in particular, does little but act disapprovingly in true stereotypical mother-in-law fashion.

The Boys are Back is a good film but it is frustrating that it is not a great film. As well as the very strong opening and its mostly strong performances, it is beautifully shot by cinematographer Greig Fraser (Last Ride) and the use of the heartbreaking songs by the Icelandic group Sigur Rós is inspired. In fact, while Sigur Rós have featured on other soundtracks before, you do wonder why no other filmamaker had thought about using their very emotive and cinematic music so extensively. The Boys are Back is a good drama but it does leaving you feeling like it could have been so much better.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Film review – Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007)

2 December 2008

Philip Glass is one of the most prolific and influential modern music composers. His operas, symphonies, concertos and film scores have been equally celebrated and derided. Glass himself jokes that his music is, “So radical that I could be mistaken for an idiot”. For 18 months Australian director Scott Hicks (Shine) had unrestricted access to Glass’ personal and professional life to make this extraordinary documentary.

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Shedding Light Film Festival

1 March 2002

Interview with Bridget Ikin

Bridget Ikin is an independent film producer who became involved in the Shedding Light Film festival while she was the General Manager at SBS Independent. As part of Adelaide Festival 2002, Shedding Light is a program of 5 Australian feature films and 5 international feature films. Shedding Light also features the Casting Shadows program, which is 5 collections of Indigenous short films, and the F5 program which is a series of forums and master classes with the filmmakers, including Rolf de Heer (Bad Boy Bubby, Dance Me To My Song), and special guests such as Rachel Perkins (Radiance, One Night The Moon) and Scott Hicks (Shine, Hearts In Atlantis).

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Young Hearts

20 February 2002

From Adelaide to Atlantis – director Scott Hicks says his new film holds a mirror up to childhood experience.

Scott Hicks first made his mark on the film world with Shine, his 1996 tale of the troubled musical prodigy David Helfgott. The film made Hicks a Hollywood player and its star, Geoffrey Rush, a household name. Hicks went on to make the picturesque mystery/love story Snow Falling On Cedars, and this month sees the release of latest, and possibly finest work, Hearts In Atlantis.

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