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Theatrical Review: THE BOYS ARE BACK

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
September 25th, 2009


Rating: 8.5/10

Writers: Simon Carr (novel), Allan Cubitt (screenplay)
Director: Scott Hicks
Cast: Clive Owen, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Laura Fraser
Studio: Miramax Films

The story of THE BOYS ARE BACK is simple enough – Clive Owen’s Joe Warr loses his wife, Katie, to rapidly spreading cancer. She’s fine, then she’s sick, then she’s gone. Joe has to rebuild the pieces of his life with their young son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). Along the way, his teenage son from his previous marriage, Harry (George MacKay), joins them in rural Australia. THE BOYS ARE BACK doesn’t stick to the normal filmic conventions on dealing with grief – people don’t fall down sobbing and things don’t get magically better. It’s emotionally honest in a way that is rare in studio cinema these days, and it features some eye-opening performances that absolutely deserve to be seen.

It’s not a film with a “plot,” so much as a “journey.” Some films can be neatly summed up in reviews in a way that makes it (almost) unnecessary for them to actually be viewed. THE BOYS ARE BACK is not one of those films. Any way that I can explain the plot or the things that happen in the film in this review won’t do them justice. It might all sound too sad or too tragic, but it’s frequently very funny and very fulfilling.

After Katie’s death, Joe goes manly in his grief process – he runs away with young Artie. They bounce around Australia for awhile, upsetting family and friends in their wake. They return to their home after some weeks abroad and attempt to approximate a normal home life. It does not often work. The house is a mess, Artie frequently falls into spells of what looks like a waking coma, and Joe (who, as a sports writer, was often on the road before Katie’s death) doesn’t know how to connect with his youngest in an everyday manner. Eventually, they give themselves over to the parenting philosophy of “Just Say Yes.” Instead of automatically answering “no” to any of Artie’s seemingly outlandish childish requests, Joe starts saying yes. It turns out that the joy Artie finds in dive-bombing into a bathtub far outweighs the reasons Joe might have to say no. In such a fragile state, Joe understands they must find happiness where they can.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. When Harry decamps from London to live with Joe and Artie, their delicate balance is shook up. Who can possibly belong to whom in this scenario? What claims can be made between parents, children, and siblings? When the three boys are together, the film blossoms into what it truly is, at its very heart – a love story about a family.

THE BOYS ARE BACK also reveals Owen’s prowess as a dramatic male lead – fulfilling a lot of the promise we’ve seen before, particularly in CHILDREN OF MEN. As Joe Warr, he has to be a fully-developed character, warts and all. Joe Warr is, by no means, a perfect father or husband or son. He makes plenty of mistakes and says plenty of horrible things. He fails often, but he at least fails after attempting to do the right thing. His interactions with both young Artie (McAnulty) and Harry (MacKay) feel real, and it’s very easy to forget that we are watching Clive Owen on the screen.

THE BOYS ARE BACK is based on the book of the same name by writer Simon Carr. Owen’s Warr, in case you couldn’t guess, is really Simon Carr adapted to the screen. Carr did indeed lose his wife to cancer, and he did indeed have to bring up his two sons in the wake of the tragedy. The film sticks to the truth and feeling of Carr’s book, with some tweaks to smooth out the story for the screen. Carr himself has seen in the film and was reportedly impressed and moved by it.

Another very important element of THE BOYS ARE BACK is its soundtrack. You can read more about that in my interview with director Scott Hicks, HERE. But there was one last bit about group Sigur Ros that Hicks and I did not get a chance to talk about in our interview, but which I heard him speak about when he introduced the screening I saw of the film. The group told him that there was particular word in Icelandic that explained how the film made them feel – Hicks said it loosely translates to “feeling better for being alive.” That’s high praise for a film, but that’s exactly what THE BOYS ARE BACK feels like. It made me feel better to be alive, even when I was openly crying in the beginning of the film, the end of the film, and on the car ride home.


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