Sportswriter Joe Warr's (Clive Owen) beautiful and loving wife Katy (Laura Fraser) dies unexpectedly from cancer, leaving him and his son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), to fend for themselves. A few other characters enter to further complicate things, including Harry (George MacKay), Joe's son from his first wife who comes to visit. There's also Laure (Emma Booth), a younger mom from Artie's school who becomes interested in Joe and Artie's plight.
Focusing on deep-seated pain through loss of a loved one, this flick stirs the pot of emotions. Each of the film's scenes, which were shot in Australia, is generated with simplistic grace, accented with music by Sigur Ros. Taken from Simon Carr's novel and stripped down with a near-claustrophobic approach, director Scott Hicks (Shine) tells this story in a most sincere and honest way, relying heavily on straightforward dialogue. The frank conversations about death have a weird calm about them as we watch the characters never lie, but nonetheless withhold information. Underlying everything is the desire to do the right thing. Joe must come to grips with his immaturity, no matter how painful.
This is the journey of how a stay-away dad has to become a stay-at-home dad and make things work. Dad copes by saying "yes" to everything his son desires. This approach works to a point, but responsibilities can't be shirked forever and soon there is garbage to be taken out and dishes to clean. Even as Joe abandons the responsibilities associated with parenting, it soon becomes apparent that this isn't Neverland and Peter Pan must grow up.
The acting is phenomenal with McAnulty skillfully ranging from happy to disturbed and Mackay excels as the teenager with inner turmoil simmering just underneath the skin. Booth shows her pain in just the bat of an eyelash, and Julia Blake as mother-in-law and grandmother Barbara commands the screen, conveying perfectly the sorrow and bitterness of a mother who's lost her child. But the movie belongs to Owen, who moves perfectly through a gamut of emotions, expressing each one luminously. Any lesser actor would have entered the aforementioned sappy territory with this role. Perhaps this performance also proves a theory I had as to why Clive Owen turned down the James Bond role. The decision not to get pigeon-holed as 007 pays off when seeing him take on the complicated nuances of Joe.
Hanging on to solid dynamics, Boys plays it straight, reaping in the rewards of a compellingly heartfelt story about love, loss and coming to grips. It might be a tad bit hokey in the end, but then again, sometimes that's the way real life plays out, too.
The Boys Are Back ★★★✩✩
Starring Clive Owen, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay, Emma Booth, Laura Fraser. Directed by: Scott Hicks. Rated PG-13