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|The Boys Are Back
dir Scott Hicks
scr Allan Cubitt
prd Greg Brenman, Timothy White
with Clive Owen, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser, Julia Blake, Chris Haywood, Erik Thomson, Natasha Little, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Emma Lung, Nakia Pres
release US 25.Sep.09, Aus 12.Nov.09,
09/Australia Miramax 1h43
Breakfast in Australia: MacKay, Owen and McAnulty
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Since it's based on true events (from the life of journalist Simon Carr), this story is rather un-cinematic, lacking a driving narrative. But it's a telling exploration of relationships, relying on a superb cast to keep us engaged.
Sports writer Joe (Owen) is left in a daze when his wife Katy (Fraser) dies suddenly, leaving him to care for 6-year-old Artie (McAnulty). Since he has spent much of Artie's life travelling with his job, they have a lot of bonding to do, so they head out on a road trip. Then Joe's 14-year-old son Harry (MacKay) arrives from England to get to know his dad. With their unconventional family arrangement, these three cause a bit of concern with Joe's in-laws (Blake and Haywood) and a neighbour (Booth).
Hicks directs with a sun-kissed glow and the constant threat of overwhelming emotion, mainly due to the ghostly presence of Joe's saintly wife. Fortunately, the script and cast continually undercut sappiness with humour and energy. And the film offers a remarkably realistic view of parenting that stands up to the usual parental paranoia and politically correctness. Many of Joe's childrearing methods seem extreme (such as letting Artie ride on top of the car), but the point is made that desperate times require less constrained parenting.
It helps that Owen gets the balance right in the most emotionally open role he's ever had. We never doubt that Joe is devoted to his sons, and that when he gives them freedom he's teaching them important lessons. He also has a strikingly believable rapport with both McAnulty and MacKay, who are excellent as cliche-breaking movie kids. No one else in the film really registers, although Blake breaks out of the worried-controlling grandmother role, and Booth has some strong scenes as a potential love interest.
As it progresses, the film has relevant things to say about both friendship, parenting and even overcoming grief. And while the overall film is sweet and thoughtful, there isn't enough plot to give it much momentum. A side story about Joe's conflicting work priorities never really develops beyond a series of coincidences and somewhat contrived personality clashes. We never doubt that they'll work things out in the end. But we enjoy the journey.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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