The one disconnect many people have with cinema is that some actors don’t look like they could ever be in a real life job they play on screen. It’s hard to imagine Brad Pitt selling cars, George Clooney working as a prison guard or Matt Damon as a call center supervisor. You could imagine Clive Owen in nearly any job, though, because he’s good looking in a rugged way. You could see him tending a bar or as a Northwestern Mutual agent if he wasn’t an actor. He’s not pretty like many Hollywood stars, so at least he’s got that going for him in The Boys are Back. But not much else, apparently.
Owen is Joe, a sportswriter and recent widow. Raising his youngest (Nicholas McAnulty) without any rules or chores, he finds trying to balance out his life as a writer and being a single father to be difficult. With the addition of his other son Harry (George MacKay), from a prior marriage, Joe finds that sorting his life out is a lot more difficult than advertised.
It’s an interesting choice for Owen, who earlier in 2009 headlined action thriller The International, as he goes towards the awards circuit as opposed to box office glory. Ever since being passed over for James Bond, Owen has had the luxury (it seems) of being able to take roles he fancies as opposes to scheduling films around the Bond franchise. It’s allowed for some interesting choices, from action comedy Shoot ‘em Up, apocalyptic action thriller Children of Men and crime thriller Inside Man. His choices have mainly been towards action-oriented roles, so a more family-oriented drama is an interesting choice of characters.
It proves to be a good choice as Owen, who has an Oscar nomination under his belt for Closer already, shows off the pure dramatic chops he rarely has to use. It’s odd to see him in a film without an explosion or gunfire but Owen makes it work; this is the tale of a man learning to become a father in the wake of tragedy. Owen isn’t showy or flashy, never has been, but provides a strong performance. The problem comes with everything else.
Given a limited release, this is a film that just screams “give me awards because I’m doing something profound,” which isn’t unusual considering Scott Hicks was nominated for a similar type of film in Shine. It is interesting comparing the story-telling style of that film and this one, as Hicks’ style of going for more of a natural look with longer camera shots is interesting. But Hicks develops everything in such a manner to warrant melodrama that just isn’t in the material.
The Boys are Back is an interesting little film, and a nice way of seeing Clive Owen with something besides a machine gun in his hands, but ultimately settles for being slightly of mediocrity.
Presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby Digital surround sound, the film looks terrific. With a lot of great tracking shots, including the finale, the transfer really brings out the beauty that is Australia.
The Boys are Back: A Photographic Journey takes still pictures from the film’s photography unit and, with additional commentary from Hicks, sets them to a score. Hicks provides an interesting perspective to the proceedings, wanting to give a sense of realism to it all and using things like lighting, et al, to make it seem more natural and less artificial.
A father and two sons, on set is a quick feature involving the real life people behind the film and their on screen counterparts.
With awards season upon us, The Boys Are Back has been overlooked for a good reason: it’s a flashy film that seems to begging for awards more than trying to be a great film.
Miramax Films presents The Boys Are Back. Directed by Scott Hicks. Starring Clive Owen, Laura Fraser. Written by Allan Cubitt off the novel “The Boys are Back in Town” by Simon Cross. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: January 26, 2010. Available at Amazon.