The Boys Are Back is a heartwarming drama that explores how one family deals with a tragedy. Directed by Scott Hicks (Shine, No Reservations), this movie is based on a book of memoirs called The Boys Are Back In Town by Simon Carr. Shot on location in gorgeous southern Australia, this is one of the best movies of 2009 that no one is talking about.
Clive Owen (Children of Men, Closer) stars as Joe Warr, a successful sports writer. When his wife, Katy, dies suddenly of cancer, he is left to raise his six-year-old son all by himself. The scenes leading up to Katy’s death are absolutely heart-wrenching. Joe is beside himself with sorrow, while six-year-old Artie’s flippant nature about his mother’s impending death is infuriatingly heartbreaking. After the first 15 minutes, I thought I was in for a depressing tear-jerker. Thankfully, this movie has more to offer.
Joe slowly deals with his pain, but in the meantime he must face the tall order of being a single parent. Artie is full of energy and zeal, but at the same time he misses his deceased mother in a profound way. Watching the two connect slowly is a rewarding experience. Joe develops a unique approach to his parenting style. He embraces the motto “just say yes” and the idea of “no rules, no chores." Artie begins to thrive in this environment, and the feel-good moments are an excellent rebound from the saddening opening scenes.
Joe has a second son from his first marriage. Estranged from Joe and living in England with his mother (Joe and Artie live in Australia), the teenage Harry Warr comes to stay with Joe and Artie. I will admit, I immediately thought that Harry was going to be a rebellious punk who would negatively influence Artie and the movie would devolve into a string of clichés. The Boys Are Back pleasantly surprised me once again.
Yes, Harry has to adjust to living in rural Australia and getting to know his father. However, the movie avoids the pitfalls it could have fallen into with the done-to-death prodigal son story. Harry truly loves Artie, and earnestly wants to know why his father left his mother when he was a young child. Joe has to balance his demanding job with running the houseful of boys and even the inkling of romance with the mother of one of Artie’s classmates.
Clive Owen turns in a fantastic performance. The range of emotions he portrays, from devastation to bliss, is outstanding. He shows patient love time and again through subtle words and actions. I have no children, and I was moved by his performance. I can only imagine the sort of impact this role may have on a parent, particularly a parent of boys. Laura Fraser turns in a great performance as Katy Warr. Even though her screen time is limited, she makes the most of every appearance. Joe has conversations with her during particularly stressful times throughout the movie. When she first appeared to converse with Joe, I made the obligatory Obi-Wan Kenobi joke. However, after a few more of these sudden, intense conversations between a man and the woman he loves and deeply misses, I came to appreciate the neat narrative technique.
Artie, played by Nicholas McAnulty, is absolutely believable throughout the entire movie. That alone is high praise for most child actors, but several of Artie’s scenes displayed some legitimate acting chops. He is definitely one to watch as he ages. George McKay plays Harry, and he does not disappoint either. Harry, Artie, and Joe have a real chemistry between them. The fact that McKay and McAnulty are able to hold their own alongside an actor the caliber of Clive Owen is really impressive.
The special features are scarce, but what is included is quality. “The Boys Are Back: A Photographic Journey” is a slideshow of photos of the cast, crew, and shooting locations. There is an optional commentary with Scott Hicks, and he provides a great deal of insight into the movie along with some entertaining background info. The photos of the Australian locales are beautiful. “A Father and Two Sons, On Set” is a typical featurette with interviews and behind-the-scenes information. Both of these featurettes are good, but it is a shame more are not included.
This uplifting movie features fantastic performances, a moving story, and a great score (Hal Lindes composed the score and Sigur Rós performs the soundtrack). The music is an important part of this movie, as it really drives home the emotional impact in many scenes. The fact that this film is based on a true story only makes it that much more poignant.