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BOYS, THE: Feature

Like the sound of a sustained cello, The Boys is a darkly riveting film that haunts you into the night. Who and why was it made? ANDREW L. URBAN reports.

"When Robert Connolly and I first discussed adapting the stage play," says director Rowan Woods, "I remember asking myself the question: what could be in this? Where is the insight into the humanity of the boys and humanity in general, in a piece about killers?"

"a gripping psychological study of a family in crisis"

Woods was struck by the structure of the play and the simplicity of its landscape of characters. "It was the perfect foundation for a gripping psychological study of a family in crisis – manipulated by the eldest son who is both loved and feared."

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.

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.

May, 1998

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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.

Following its premiere in Competition at Berlin this year (1998), The Boys went to Cannes; it is the debut feature for director Rowan Woods, who has been making short dramas for a decade. Woods was surrounded by a crew also making their first feature – but had worked with him on the hundreds of shorts Woods had made.

Produced by John Maynard (Vigil, The Navigator, Sweetie), The Boys is a drama based on a highly successful stage play, which won several awards. The producer of the play, Robert Connolly, is also a producer of the film, and sees the basic story as a response to a series of crimes involving women plucked from the street.

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