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BOYS ARE BACK, THE

SYNOPSIS:
In the wake of his wife's (Laura Fraser) tragic death, South Australian based expat English sports writer Joe Warr (Clive Owen) finds himself in unfamiliar territory parenting their 6 year old Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), so he resorts to the 'just say yes' model. His mother in law (Julia Blake) doesn't approve. Things get worse when his 15 year old son Harry (George Mackay) from his first marriage to Flick (Natasha Little) comes out to visit from England. The three males plunge into chaos, each needing more than they seem to find in their complex, grieving relationships. When Joe's editor Tim Walker (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) insists on first hand coverage of the Australian Open tennis championship from Melbourne, Joe is in a bind what to do with the boys. His decision leads to the unraveling of his already nebulous life and some revelations and changes that affect them all.

Review by Louise Keller:
The mood is as tangible as the wind that blows across the beautiful golden fields and rolling hills of South Australia. It's about emotional chaos and who better to embody it than Clive Owen as Joe, the soulful, heartbroken widower trying to master the skills of being an everyday father as he juggles the rest of his life. Capturing a memoir is tough as insights and thoughts carry a different weight on film, but screenwriter Allan Cubbitt has successfully grappled with the heart of Simon Carr's novel to create a substantial emotional backdrop for his characters. Director Scott Hicks injects passion and melancholy in equal parts as he tells the story of a man struggling to cope with not only a young son pushing the boundaries of love, but a teenager he hardly knows, who is eager to find his own corner in the sun.

When we first meet Owen's Joe, he is driving his car along the sand, sea spray splooshing everywhere and his young daredevil six year old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) perched on the bonnet gleefully holding onto the windscreen wipers. At first glance, it looks as though neither has a care in the world, but quickly we learn otherwise. In flashback, we relive the events that change the 'happily ever after' scenario that Joe and his wife Katie (Laura Fraser) enjoyed. Everything is now a mess - gone is the smell of fresh rosemary in the kitchen and fresh flowers on the window sill. In its place are piles of washing, dirty dishes and evidence of daily grind flung far and wide.

We first get to know Joe as he does whatever he needs to do to communicate with his Artie. There's a spontaneous road trip amid the loneliness and emptiness they both feel. Then Joe's 14 year son Harry (George McKay) from his first marriage arrives from England and there are different feelings of inadequacy. Joe starts to rely more and more on reliable and attractive (Emma Booth), the mother of one of Artie's school friends; is she a romance in the offing or a babysitting convenience? He has plenty of people to do something with, but no-one with whom he can do nothing. The strains of the demands of his role as head sports writer for a newspaper impinge on family duties and things come to a dramatic head during a quick trip to Melbourne for the Australian Open Tennis Championships.

Owen finds the perfect balance between thoughtful, sad, dutiful and loving and our hearts sigh for him as he struggles uphill the whole time. Little McAnulty delivers an endearingly natural performance as Artie, while McKay shows maturity as the teenager dogged by rejection and conflict. All the performances are excellent including Julia Blake as Artie's caring grandmother who has her own views on parenting. The story's dramatic curve wavers with a time jump that prises us out of its reality; the film's strength lies in its establishment in the early scenes. Never have the contoured Adelaide Hills looked lovelier and Greig Fraser's cinematography is outstanding. This feels like a work of love for Hicks, who injects serenity within the chaos as he conducts a mantle of gentle melancholy.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Fathers and sons ... tricky, prickly, unchartered waters for many, the theme is abundantly covered by writers and filmmakers alike. For good reason: the father/son relationship is an integral part of everyone's life, as is the mother/child relationship. In broken homes, the bridge can be even less reliable. Simon Carr's autobiographically-driven novel has been compressed into a screenplay that captures the drama of a well meaning but floundering dad unable to cope with the terrible perfect storm of early widowhood and early fatherhood.

Clive Owen delivers a sympathetic Joe Warr whose failures are not so much of intent as of ineptitude; the male who can't cook, clean, keep time - nor manage his young family. In that respect, he is a bit of a cliché, but Owen's authority saves him from being a pathetic figure. But it's the two boys, young George Mackay and younger Nicholas McAnulty who walk away with the acting honours in astonishingly mature and controlled performances. In the case of McAnulty, it's one of those performances in which we suspect the youngster never learnt a line of dialogue, was never schooled by director Scott Hicks ... just filmed as he went about his life, so natural and real is his performance.

Equally fine work from the entire supporting cast, led by acting doyenne Julia Blake as mother in law, Emma Booth as a single mum who ends up telling Joe some home truths, and Emma Lung as a barmaid in a lovely cameo - and two of Australia's best character actors, Chris Haywood and Lewis Fitz-Gerald in key roles that might (in other directorial hands) have been left to lesser talent.

Given its jaunty title (abbreviated from The Boys Are Back in Town), it's a dislocation to discover that the film requires patience and commitment from audiences; it's not quick fix escapism, with its carefully structured, observational approach. Nor is it flawless; for example, when Joe asks Harry to come and live with him and Artie in Australia after all these years, saying how he and Artie had talked about it a lot, it's short changing us not to have shown at least one of those conversations. Perhaps that could have replaced the chatty visits by the ghost of the dead mother ... We also miss a full resolution to Harry's relationship with his mother. Nor is the flirtatious relationship between Joe and Emma Booth's Lucy satisfactorily handled. And it's a matter of taste, but I would have preferred a more robust, less sentiment-driven score.

Reservations aside, the film has resonance and it has something to say about families and fathers and the very real difficulties men face in our society for which they are under-prepared ... like their fathers before them.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

SCOTT HICKS INTERVIEW

BOYS ARE BACK, THE (M)
(Aust/UK, 2009)

CAST: Clive Owen, Emma Booth, Julia Blake, Erik Thomson, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay, Chris Haywood, Natasha Little, Emma Lung, Lewis Fitz-Gerald

PRODUCER: Greg Brenman, Timothy White

DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks

SCRIPT: Allan Cubitt (novel by Simon Carr)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Greig Fraser

EDITOR: Scott Gray

MUSIC: Hal Lindes

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Melinda Doring

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 12, 2009







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