The Boys Are Back **
Directed By: Scott Hicks.
Written By: Allan Cubitt based on the book by Simon Carr.
Starring: Clive Owen (Joe Warr), Emma Booth (Laura), Laura Fraser (Katy), George Mckay (Harry), Nicolas McAulty (Artie).
Scott Hicks’ The Boys are Back is supposed to be an inspirational movie about how a father who has been absent for most of his sons’ lives learns how to be a better man after the death of his wife. Unfortunately, while I was watching the movie, I felt it was more of a story about how a terrible father becomes slightly less terrible by the end of the movie. By the end of the film, I don’t think the main character is still a very good father, although I suppose I should give him points for trying really hard.
Clive Owen stars as Joe Warr, a English sportswriter who left his first wife, and son Harry (George McKay) years ago when he fell in love with an Australia woman and got her pregnant. Now he lives in Australia with his new wife Laura (Emma Booth) and their son Artie (Nicolas McAulty). He rarely sees either of his children though, as he is busy travelling from one far flung sporting event after another. But then Laura gets diagnosed with cancer, and dies pretty rapidly. Now Joe is stuck raising Artie by himself. Things get more complicated when Harry, now a sullen, moody teenager decides he wants to come and stay with his dad for a while as well. For the first time in his life, Joe has to become a father.
Joe really doesn’t know what he’s doing though, and the house quickly turns into a pigsty. He has problems being a disciplinarian, and cannot get either of his sons to do what he wants. There is also the threat of a tentative relationship with a single mom Katy (Laura Fraser) from Artie’s class. The two revolve around each other, sizing the other one up, but things don’t ever really progress very far between them. Joe is still in love with his wife, and it doesn’t help that she keeps showing up and giving him advice. That’s right, the movie uses the by now completely annoying device of someone coming back from beyond the grave to give advice.
Hicks is a talented filmmaker, but ever since his Oscar winning movie Shine, he was been on a downwards slope. While I thought his follow-up film to that one, Snow Falling on Cedars, was absolutely beautiful, it was admittedly a little dramatically inert. He followed that one up with the Stephen King drama adaptation of Hearts in Atlantis, and while again the film was good, the books sheer size made it impossible to do it justice on screen. He went mainstream with the lame romantic comedy No Reservations, and tried to do a documentary with Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, but I remained unimpressed with both. Now he’s back doing a “prestige” film, and while he shows his filmmaking skills off – the movie is impressively well made – the film just never quite comes together.
Clive Owen is a talented actor, and although he is best known for intense roles (like his brilliant turn in Closer), he is capable of being soft and charming. He tries to give Joe depth, but he is undone by the screenplay, who tries so hard to make us love him. The rest of the cast is merely adequate, not really delivering performances that make us feel anything, but not being overly annoying either.
And that pretty much describes the movie as well. It is not a painful process to sit through this movie, but it is not very involving either. I sat there thinking that there was a good movie somewhere in this material, but that the filmmakers were not being honest with us. If they had made more of an effort to make the film a little tougher, and less time trying to make us fall in love with its characters, this could have been a very good movie. But they didn’t, so the end result is merely mediocre.