'The Boys Are Back'

On The Aisle

By Tony Macklin

“The Boys Are Back” is a poignant and rowdy celebration of a broken family dealing with grief and drastic change. It has a lame title and a rambling story, but it also has an outstanding performance by Clive Owen and beautiful Australian scenery.

The movie is based on an actual story — I hate to use the word “true”— from the book “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Simon Carr published in 2000. Carr’s memoir was fictionalized (the names were changed) by screenwriter Allan Cubitt, but it renders many events from the book.

“The Boys Are Back” tells the tale of Joe Warr (very close to “Carr”), a sportswriter in Australia, whose young wife died of cancer, leaving him unprepared to raise their 6-year-old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty).

Warr (Clive Owen) raises his boy with reckless abandon, on the edge of irresponsibility. It is a time before yuppies put helmets on everything.

The boy rides on the hood of a Land Rover holding onto the wipers as his dad speeds along a beach by the ocean as onlookers are aghast and infuriated.

Joe allows his son to jump on a trampoline unwatched. He and Artie have a wild water fight in the house. Dishes, rubbish and laundry pile up. It is a home of near chaos.

Even though his late wife Katy (Laura Fraser) on occasion appears to have chats with Joe, the household lacks a woman’s touches and organization. A once tidy home is now a mess.

From England, into the disheveled digs comes Joe’s other son from his first marriage, teenager Harry (George MacKay), who feels his father abandoned him when he went to Australia and married Katy.

Harry has grown up without a father’s influence, and he is upset by the machismo bouncing off the walls of his dad’s Australian abode.

So Joe is faced with trying to raise two very different sons. His “just say yes” philosophy is severely tested.

Occasionally a woman tries to help — a supportive single mom (Emma Booth) and Katy’s mother (Julia Blake), who is displeased by her son-in-law’s irresponsibility.

The best quality of “The Boys Are Back” is Owen’s performance as the anguished but plucky Joe. It may well be his best movie performance. He cries convincing tears as he struggles with loss and responsibility. It’s an engaging portrayal.

Australian director Scott Hicks is adept at getting excellent acting. Actor Geoffrey Rush won an Oscar in Hicks’ “Shine.”

What also is a forte for Hicks is that he quickly cuts scenes to keep them from bogging down in sentimentality. Editor Scott Gray is proficient.

The photography by Greig Fraser captures the natural allure of southern Australia. One evocative scene was shot from a room in Hicks’ own home.

Ironically “The Boys Are Back” is like a wayward wallaby all over the place. The screenwriter Cubitt is unable to unify the disparate parts. The thesis of the movie could be a lot clearer.

Some scenes are very predictable. When a mob of young partiers takes over Joe’s house when he’s away on assignment, it is telegraphed from 10 kilometers away. It’s far too pat.

Owens perhaps should be nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, but his movie probably won’t do sufficient box office for him to get such recognition. Still, it’s one to put on your DVD list.

“The Boys Are Back,” which Owen co-produced, is a labor of love for him. He should be proud of his work.

Categories: Entertainment