THE BOYS ARE BACK ***
Loss is one of the inexorable inevitabilities of existence.
It will come to everyone – in some form – whether you’re properly prepared for it or not. The way you weather it can conceivably make or break the remainder of your time here on earth.
Such is the lesson that JOE WARR (CLIVE OWEN) is about to learn.
In the opening scene, Joe drives his Range Rover swiftly through the pounding surf at the edge of the beach near his home. The other visitors are exasperated with him. They aren’t especially tolerant of a large vehicle in their vicinity.
But Joe doesn’t care. He’s been through enough. He feels that he’s earned the right to enjoy himself.
Perched on the hood, with his back against the windshield, is Joe’s six year old son ARTIE (NICHOLAS McANULTY).
The bountiful paradise that they’re a part of is south Australia. Everything by the water is golden except for the sky – the leaves on the trees, the burnished sand, the luscious rolling hills, the fields that stretch out forever…
Joe and Artie live in a spacious home with a wide veranda that looks like something out of ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST. Until a recent tragedy, Joe’s second wife KATY (LAURA FRASER) shared the same residence with them.
Joe is a decent man who tries to do the right thing. But he’s flawed and all too human. This also extends to his relationship with his boy. He’s a generous parent. But with a career as a sportswriter, he’s often out of town or even off the continent.
He and Katy have a solid, loving partnership. She’s independent and has her own particular method of doing things. It’s fine that Joe has his work. But for Artie, it’s more about gift giving and waiting for his father to come home.
Katy takes care of the difficult details and all of the essentials. Joe’s an exciting dad. When he returns from a trip, it’s wall to wall fun for days on end.
One evening at a party, Joe teasingly tells Katy how beautiful she is. She laughs knowingly and then falls to the floor.
She’s taken to the hospital and, after a thorough exam, her family is told that she has cancer. It’s serious. It has all ready spread throughout her body. No treatment can help.
Her life is about to end shortly.
This is devastating news. In mere weeks, Joe watches his fiery, vibrant, dark haired spouse become a pale, fragile shadow of herself.
Some time later Joe tries to explain to Artie that his mother doesn’t have much time left. That night, in the bed that they share, Katy succumbs to a deep sleep from which she will never awaken.
Now it’s up to Joe to take full responsibility of the household and Artie as well as his job. He is clearly not ready for it. His transition from good time dad to caring disciplinarian is overwhelming for him.
He attempts to watch over Artie and set various boundaries but the boy knows exactly how to get around him. The son is aware of his father’s triggers and delights in pushing all of Joe’s buttons.
Most days the house looks like a hurricane hit it.
But this is not an uncommon scenario.
Some males are great nurturers and parenting comes very naturally to them. They’re better at it than the majority of women.
However, lots of men are exactly like Joe. They have enormous difficulty dealing with unforeseen disasters and the vicissitudes of life. Many women are stoic pragmatists. They understand instinctively that the only way to get from Point A to Point B is to live though it.
Males don’t deal well with illness, death or anything horrendous – especially if it comes directly out of left field. Joe is fairly typical in that regard. He grabs a bottle at Katy’s wake, takes it outside and sinks to the bottom of it.
For months, Joe struggles to cope. Then HARRY (GEORGE MacKAY), his teenage son from his first marriage, arrives on his doorstep from England.
Harry not only misses his dad but he has a full blown case of virulent adolescent angst going on. His mother’s new boyfriend has just moved in. Harry thinks that it’s about time that he got reacquainted with his father and tiny half sibling.
But life is only becoming more complicated for Joe. Behind every day of sunlight there’s a dark cloud ready to burst. He has to reconcile his career demands with the attention he must give to his two sons. He also has a potential romantic interest in LAURA (EMMA BOOTH), a young divorced woman whose daughter is a classmate of Artie’s.
Everything is hard. But the rewards make it all worthwhile. Joe gets through it all relatively unscathed.
He has the best of intentions. But will it be enough?
The film is a true story, based on the memoir THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN by SIMON CARR.
SCOTT HICKS is a director with an understanding of the complexities of human behaviour and the shifting dynamics of family life. He does have a tendency towards sentimentality that can be cloying. But here he explores the depth and richness of the father/son connection without becoming excessively maudlin. Its emotional core is pure and genuinely heartfelt.
There are some scenes that could have gone overboard. But instead they were deeply touching and wonderfully realized.
Australia has rarely looked this glorious. Its monumental gorgeousness is captured by cinematographer GREIG FRASER, who did equally impressive work on BRIGHT STAR. The shots he composes are ecstatic candy for your eyes.
All of the acting is extraordinarily well done. But CLIVE OWEN is the best thing about this picture.
He can be seductively smooth or rough around the edges. But there is often an element of roguishness or hardness to the men that he portrays.
JOE WARR is a completely different character. He is an average ordinary man who is trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and go on from there. CLIVE allows you to see the great vulnerability and soulfulness beneath the charismatic exterior.
This is the third powerful lead role that CLIVE has completed this year. It would be a travesty of immense proportions to have him overlooked for 2009 awards recognition. He really deserves it for any of those films.
But particularly for this one. He is simply incredible.
THE BOYS ARE BACK acknowledges that life is relentlessly challenging. But there is always hope.
Broken hearts do mend eventually. For we must endure. All of us.
There is no other way.