"The Boys Are Back", the new film directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine"), is a film that is "Based on a True Story". But as you watch it, you may ask yourself "What is so remarkable about this story that it warrants the big screen treatment?" In "Shine", we met an extraordinarily interesting man who we wanted to learn more about. A lot more. And Geoffrey Rush made the film all the better with his mesmerizing, star marking performance.
As you watch "Boys", you will probably answer the question I asked before with 'Nothing'.
"The Boys are Back" is the pretty common story of Joe Warr (Clive Owen), a British sportswriter who now lives and works in Australia, writing about sports for an Australian newspaper. He moved to Australia because he fell in love with his current wife and they had a child. Now a single parent, Joe finds himself trying to adapt to caring for his young son (played by Nicholas McAnulty). After a bit of time mourning and learning to care for his young son, he gets a call from his older son, Harry (George MacKay) who lives in England, with his mom, Joe's first wife. He wants to come and visit. Initially, Joe is a bit amazed at the timing, but realizes he and his older son must have some needs that aren't being met. Joe soon finds himself the adult in a household gone mad, but this is how he prefers it; there are few rules and even less discipline and he hopes this will allow for the ultimate amount of bonding, healing and love. There are complications, but these only serve to push everyone closer together.
There is really nothing remarkable about the story behind "The Boys Are Back"; single father has to adjust and begin caring for his two sons. In fact, if the parent were a mom, this would make the perfect material for a Lifetime Channel movie. A bad Lifetime Channel movie. But because the director is Scott Hicks and he is working with Clive Owen, an actor who is clearly at the top of his game, and two young actors who are really quite amazing, the film becomes extraordinary and moving and memorable.
Owen makes the role of Joe Warr seem effortless, as though he is a British ex-pat living in Australia, working for a major newspaper as a sports writer. It all starts with the few scenes we watch between Joe and his wife. Joe is clearly in love and misses every moment he is away. It is even more shocking for us as we watch him react to her suddenly dropping to the floor and our heartbreaks as Joe cares for his ailing wife. Owen is playing a fairly common guy so it seems even more remarkable that he is able to make the performance seem so good. As he watches his wife die, he realizes his young son may need some help coping, but the little guy seems like any other young kid; unaware of the problem and the severity of what is going on.
As Owen portrays this character, we understand his struggles and the problems he is experiencing. He receives a call from his first son, who wants to come and visit from England. The look on Joe's face says it all. This is not a good time and he really wants to tell him that, but how do you tell your son that? So, he agrees to the visit. Soon, Joe and Artie arrive at the airport to meet Henry.
As soon as Henry arrives, he instantly realizes there is a certain distance between them and is unsure how to close this. He decides to let everything be a little more natural and hopes the bonding will come with time.
As Joe deals with this situation, trying to deal with his own grief while trying to help Artie deal with the death of his mom, trying to reconnect with his older son, trying to be a dad, he decides to let them do what they want. They run through the house, play, eat what they want when they want, it is heaven for them.
Joe attracts the attention of a single mom and she starts to come over, bringing her daughter to play with Artie. While she is attracted to Joe, and admires his parenting style, she can't help but comment about the state of his house (which quickly becomes filthy) and his ability to avoid addressing any sort of disciplinary issues.
These very same qualities serve to alarm Joe's mother-in-law. She completely disapproves of the way he is handling her grandson's upbringing and wants to take him in. Joe flat our refuses.
"The Boys Are Back" is about how Joe deals with his two sons. And Clive Owen is great, but without equally convincing performances from the two sons the film would not work. Thankfully, the two child actors are great.
George McKay plays Henry, Joe's son from his first marriage. As soon as he enters this new household, his eyes open wide, taking in the wild abandon in which Artie, his younger half-brother behaves. It is like he is experiencing true childhood for the first time. He immediately adapts and falls into this life style. As the story continues, we learn he was studying at a strict prep school and we understand what is going on. We understand why he loves this new environment so much.
And Nicholas McAnulty plays Joe's younger son, Artie. From the moment we realize Joe's wife is going to die, Artie continues to run around and play, flying a model airplane as he careens through the house. He is too young to understand what is happening and just does what comes naturally. As his father adjusts with his new life as a full time parent, Artie isn't beyond letting his displeasure known (Joe makes a late trip to the supermarket to get some dinner and we watch Artie standing a few yards away putting because he is hungry) and seems even more frustrated because he can't express his feelings.
The movie is better because Clive Owen goes to great lengths to make his portrayal of new full time dad Joe very convincing, But the two kids playing his sons are equally convincing and help take "The Boys Are Back" to a new level.
There is a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding Owen's performance. And it is richly deserved; he is that good. And because the film basically tells the story of a normal guy coping with a death, the fact it is so memorable is even more remarkable.