"Don't ever think we will forget you."
Clive Owen stars as a recent widower raising his two sons in Southern Australia in this poignant drama. Director Scott Hicks helms this unconventional story, which is adapted from Simon Carr’s memoirs. Owen, who also served as executive producer, plays sports writer Joe Warr, who’s suddenly a single father when his wife Katy (Laura Fraser) is stricken with cancer. Filmmakers pull no punches as their happy marriage shifts into a medical crisis.
The screenplay by Alan Cubitt depicts Katy’s cancer progression, even the difficult home care as her sudden deterioration diminishes her role as a mother, wife, and daughter. Joe, six-year-old son Artie, and Katy’s mother Barbara (Julia Blake) must now endure this family tragedy. The plot breaks key character life progressions into relatively short segments so audiences are not entirely subdued. The audience gets familiar with these realistic characters while the actors can showcase their talents.
After Katy’s passing, Joe’s rules become more relaxed while he juggles his work responsibilities with personal accountability. Owen’s poignant performance during a school scene where he opens his heart to a stranger is just one justification for some acting awards and recognition, which never happened.
Joe’s loosening household rules and “chore shock” ebb into playfully focused coping with Artie, played by Nicholas McAnulty, as they embrace the world with new freedoms, outlooks, and adventurous activities like a backyard zipline or driving down to the beach… with Arty riding outside. Household chores predictably pile up as Joe struggles to shape Arty’s newfound routines and daily structure. “It will get better, I promise,” says Joe.
Joe eventually verbalizes the new household rules once Harry, his son from a previous marriage, decides to visit. “Do as I tell you. I just don't like to tell you to do very much,” Joe says to Harry, well played by George MacKay. Joe and Harry have an estranged relationship, but show signs of hope, especially during a touching sequence where Joe tells Harry his rules on swearing. “Swearing is a sign of a limited vocabulary,” says Joe as Harry counters with a barrage of mainly British/Australian swear words.
The humor has an interesting common sense style. The household chaos situations would seem funnier without knowing the circumstances behind them. Filmmakers use this tactic in the beginning beach sequence, which initially puts the audience on the outside view as they’re eventually drawn into this dramatic story.
A friendly fellow parent named Laura (Emma Booth) also blends into the mix after Joe befriends her at Artie’s school. Laura’s role gives Joe some outside perspective as a possible romantic connection creates some tension among his sons.
The screenplay stretches beyond the homestead “rules of the house” dynamics by incorporating characters’ frequent worldwide travels in the film’s second half while still focusing on each “boy’s” personal journey. This scripted progression fills in gaping holes, except for Joe’s work life, which results into a hopeful theme about how a person can do what’s right at any time in their life. Audiences can ultimately receive the same life experience as the characters do — healing.
As always, Hicks directs with realism and flair, especially near the end during a train station sequence. The natural visual approach allows seamless incorporation of personal narrative techniques including a key character’s reappearances and special narration segments.
Hicks also contributes to the main bonus feature, "The Boys Are Back: A Photographic Journey." This 16-minute featurette presents a picture montage, which includes deleted scenes, with fade in/out transitions as the optional commentary from Hicks includes important details and insight about each picture. For example, Hicks describes the house built for the film and how he and cinematographer Greig Fraser wanted “light always coming in from the outside” to build a sense of real lives unfolding. This featurette also includes optional musical accompaniment.
The remaining featurette, "A Father and Two Sons, On Set," begins well then ends abruptly just as interest is piqued with Carr and his two sons visiting the set and mingling with the actors. Carr provides comments and praise for the film adaptation in sit down interview segments, but this bonus feels incomplete, like a fragment from a more complete work.
Basic DVD features include widescreen format, Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English/Spanish subtitle and audio options. The Icelandic band Sigur Ros provides several memorable songs, an experience which could have been greatly expanded in the lacking bonus features.
The Boys Are Back has no cheesy lines, no Thin Lizzy song, and no segments to make audiences uncomfortable or squirm in their seats. Just personal drama and life’s journey at its cinematic best, though more bonus features would have enhanced the experience. Recommended and rated PG-13 for some sexual language and thematic elements.