The Boys Are Back (2009): Australia/United Kingdom – directed by Scott Hicks
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some bad language and mature themes
This movie is a little confused at times. It’s part road movie, sort of a sports movie, sometimes a drama, and sometimes makes us laugh. The one thing it does consistently is focus on the relationship between a father and his two sons.
The Boys Are Back stars Clive Owen as Joe Warr, a sportswriter down in Australia. This is a rather different role for Owen, the man who should have been James Bond (not that there’s anything wrong with Daniel Craig, whom I think has done a great job.) This is perhaps the first time I’ve seen Owen in something without any action, but he does a fine job in this different role.
The movie is based on a true story, which means it is sad. And it is sad. Warr’s wife dies in the first fifteen minutes, leaving him alone on an Australian ranch with his young son, Artie (wonderfully played by Nicholas McAnulty.) The problem is that Artie knows him best as a man who comes back from being away for weeks at a time, bringing him presents. Warr’s job covering sports sends him all over the globe at various times of the year.
Warr has done almost nothing right his whole life. He left England, and his wife and son, to move to Australia, marrying Kate (played by Laura Fraser) and raising another son. He keeps in touch with his older son, Harry (George MacKay) but hasn’t had much influence in his life.
So, after his wife’s death he finds himself in a bit of a conundrum. He can’t connect with Artie, who grieves in ways foreign to Joe. Warr finds comfort with alcohol. So, with no other ideas he embarks on a road trip with Artie, going wherever they want. They have some fun times and Joe discovers that his new motto is “Just say yes.” He lets Artie do just about anything he wants, something he continues when Harry comes to visit. There are many difficulties along the way, some involving trying to keep his job and still stay with his sons. Another mom at Artie’s school becomes a part of their life, and Joe always has his mother-in-law to contend with.
Along the way, of course, he learns a lot of lessons. He’s made many mistakes in his life and is trying to find a way through them. He doesn’t always do the right thing, but he wants to. By the end of the movie he has definitely changed for the better. This sounds like a good, heartwarming theme, if a bit generic, and it is. There are some definite life-affirming moments. However, the film falters in several ways as well.
For one thing, Joe’s progress as a human being starts and stutters inconsistently. At one moment he’s doing a great job as a father, the next he’s making obvious mistakes. The problem is that there is no explanation for either behavior. The character arc is sporadic on the way to its inevitable end. The narrative behaves similarly at times, jumping continents without any exposition and throwing the characters into unexpected situations.
There are some high points, as well. The role of Artie (and the acting) is very convincing. He can’t quite put together his thoughts, since he’s so young and facing some emotional difficulties, and his behaviour is often very erratic as a result. This was quite a realistic touch, I thought, and one most movies don’t approach. There’s also the scenary, which is lovely. The movie is filmed on location in Australia and England, but it’s the Australian landscapes that provide the most emotional impact. Director Scott Hicks takes his cameras back to Australia for the first time since his Oscar-winning Shine, and the effect is evident. The entire production is high quality, from the directing to the editing and acting, but no specific aspect stands out above the rest.
Did I like the movie? I liked it to a certain extent. Some of the emotional scenes are quite poignant, both regarding Kate’s death and involving Joe’s connection with his sons. The movie does have its problems and never quite fully deals with Joe’s mistakes. As a family drama it’s a fine effort, and worth watching with the family (assuming the kids are old enough.) If the plot summary sounds interesting, or if you absolutely have to see everything Clive Owen is in, go for it. Other than that I would have trouble recommending it.