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On his return home after a year in jail, Brett Sprague (David Wenham), one of three brothers, discovers things have changed and his insecurities build. Brett’s girlfriend, Michelle (Toni Collette) resents the way Brett has changed. His brothers, Glenn (John Polson) and Stevie (Anthony Hayes) are restless and boozing; Stevie’s pregnant girlfriend (Anna Lise) is a nuisance, hanging around. Chaos reigns in the Sprague home as their mother, Sandra (Lynette Curran), makes a stand against her sons' behaviour. George (Pete Smith), Sandra’s current lover, steps between Sandra and Brett at the height of a drunken rage and is flattened by Brett. Sandra orders her sons out of the house. Rejected by their respective girlfriends and their mother, the Sprague boys are united in a futile rage against the lot of them. Brett leads his brothers off into the night. Wound through the story is the aftermath of that night in the form of flash-forwards.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Other than with a handful of films like Romper Stomper, Metal Skin or Blackrock, Australian filmmakers have not been drawn to the dark side of life in Australia’s communities, the areas from which come the crimes that hit the papers. The Boys - originally a play but you wouldn’t know it looking at the film – was prompted by a series of crimes in which young women were plucked from the street and brutalised; the most memorable, perhaps, being Anita Cobby. To its credit, The Boys is more interested in the exploration of the mindset of its three central characters, than in showing us a bashing and a rape. 

Sewell’s script, structured (like the play) with sparsely used flash forwards that jump further and further ahead in time, carries us through the flimsy walls of the Sprague house into the lives of this ill-fated family, with its broken marriage, disgruntled and aimless sons, the pathetic pregnant girlfriend and its ticking time bomb of a young man whose personality and circumstances have combined to turn him into an anti-social, anti-pathetic, anti-sensitive packet of dysfunction. 

David Wenham gives a sensational performance as Brett the brat, matched by the entire cast for intensity, complexity and credibility. Rowan Woods demonstrates the passion and drive of a first time director with his striking sense of story telling and cinema, while Tristan Milani’s camera becomes a surgeon’s scalpel as we are taken further and further into the film’s substance. Producers Robert Connolly (who also produced the play) and John Maynard have brought together the right elements here to make The Boys one of the most powerful, observant and artistically satisfying Australian films ever made.

If you’re up for it, you can hear the unnerving soundtrack (used sparsely through the film) separately on the DVD. You can also enjoy Rowan Woods’ terrific 17 minute short, Tran The Man, which is a great entrée for the main course, but you may prefer it as dessert. But not for the cheese … Tran The Man is the very opposite of cheesy. An early example of Woods’ instincts for sound and music as part of the dramatic language of the screen. 

The DVD is completed by two major accessories: Rowan Woods’ commentary, and a 36 minute backgrounder, Filmmakers Talking, which probes the origins of the work as a play, and traces the creative trajectory. Archival footage from the play is not up to the digital demands of a DVD, but serves its purpose as a critical starting point. It also gives us a glimpse of David Wenham in the role that he later recreated for the screen and interviews with the cast, key crew and the writers of both the play and the screenplay.

This alone would serve well as a detailed deconstruction of the filmmaking process from a creative point of view. Film students and actors will find it valuable and the general public will find it fascinating. And this, too, was directed by Woods himself.

But there is more: no steak knives, but Rowan Woods does cut deep as he comments over the film – and I don’t mean just his deep, quietly resonant voice leads us through the emotional landscape of this disturbing film. He takes us deep into the fibre of the film’s complexities and its relationship to the play, and deep into the ‘frightening emptiness’ (as Toni Collette once described Wenham’s stare) of Brett Sprague and the boys.

Published November 6, 2003

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(Aust) - 1998

CAST: David Wenham, Toni Collette, Lynette Curran, John Polson, Jeanette Cronin, Anthony Hayes, Anna Lise, Pete Smith

DIRECTOR: Rowan Woods

SCRIPT: Stephen Sewell (based on original play The Boys by Gordon Graham)

RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1; DD 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Filmmakers Talking; commentary by Rowan Woods; original play images (montage; film images (montage); soundtrack by The Necks; Tran The Man (short by Rowan Woods, starring David Wenham)


DVD RELEASE: November 6, 2003

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