Monday, November 9, 2009

The Boys Are Back

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Fathers and sons: a relationship not often portrayed without sporting paraphernalia nearby. Adapting Simon Carr’s acclaimed memoir about single fatherhood in the shadow of loss, celebrated Australian director Scott Hicks and his leading man Clive Owen offer up a delicate, moving film. In the wake of his wife’s death, sports journalist (so, not entirely leaving the paraphernalia behind) Joe Warr falters at the prospect of raising his 6 year old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). After regaining a certain equilibrium, Joe’s ‘Just Say Yes’ mentality is challenged upon the arrival from London of his 14 year old son from a previous marriage, Harry (Rupert Grint lookalike George MacKay). Together the three Warrs navigate the highs and lows of family and fatherhood in a magnificent Australian bush setting.

The Boys Are Back makes an interesting companion piece to Michael Winterbottom’s Genova. It is curious to consider how the two directors have taken similar storylines to vastly different aesthetic and thematic ends. Hicks’ film may feel more mainstream and a little episodic, but both eschew sentimentality for a rewarding look at the realities of parenthood. And like Colin Firth, Owen delivers an emotionally intelligent performance, one with a few lashings of his charm that also makes the most of his slightly stilted style.

Further contributing to the film’s sophistication is Greig Fraser’s superb cinematography. The talent behind Last Ride and Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Fraser captures idyllic South Australia and the Warr boys with a quiet poetry. Focus pulls are intertwined with luscious landscapes; domesticity and the unwieldy freedom of the bush are tellingly confused.

The Boys Are Back may privilege the experience of he single father, but it also engages with the prevailing dominance of motherhood. This results in a deeply resonant film, driven by strong performances and displaying an open affection that is too rarely depicted between fathers and sons.

Published on Concrete Playground.
Australian release date: 12 November 2009

UK release date: 22 January 2010

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