The Boys are Back star Clive Owen is an infuriatingly talented actor. Infuriating because he seems to dodge attention almost with malice aforethought. From as far back as ’98s Croupier (and before), he has delivered characters that are unbelievably difficult. Looking at Croupier on paper, you just wouldn’t think anyone could pull that off without it turning comic, or utterly boring. His resume is filled with similar characters, not least his television movie eye-roller, Ross Tanner from the Second Sight series. I mean, you can hardly explain the idea to someone with a straight face.
Moving on to bigger productions, directors, and budgets with such things as – Gosford Park, The International, and Duplicity – and one of the best films and performances in recent memory, Children of Men, Owen is nevertheless all too frequently referred to as, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that guy.”
Now, he moves to another film that seems rather tricky from the synopsis.
The Boys are Back is a semi-autobiographical story about a man (Joe) who loses his wife to cancer, and suddenly finds himself running the ship alone, and he isn’t all that sure how to handle that fact itself, his job, or his son. Before he can get his feet under him there, he’s also got his older son on his hands, sent from his first wife in England.
Torn apart, and with few ideas, Joe establishes a very precise set of rules for his son (who is six, by the way). Basically, there aren’t any. When Joe’s 14 year-old arrives from England, he has to fit himself into the madhouse. The three of them have to figure out how to get on with life, and elder son Harry adds abandonment issues to the loss of wife and mother mix. To add a special touch to Joe’s life, his mother-in-law doesn’t think he’s doing a very good job with his sons.
It’s a synopsis you’d throw away, but it’s a brilliant film. Criminally overlooked, the film is simply bizarrely engaging given the subject matter, and it sucks you in despite your firmest beliefs that it couldn’t possibly manage any such thing. Owen proves yet again that he is in a class by himself, and gives what is probably the only performance I’ve ever seen that I would put in the category of “believable spouse loss.” It’s a good thing too, because he’s in every scene, and while the two child actors are quite good, they aren’t responsible for getting the film’s point across to anything like the same extent.
Many who watch the trailer will probably well understand my saying that there is a fine line here, and on the other side of that line is made-for-television, nonsense melodrama (I won’t mention the network). But, there are times when fine lines separate worlds. There is much to learn about life from this movie that not only claims no answers, but vehemently denies having any. In the end, there is a great difference between trying to cause emotion and trying to look at it, and this is a movie that lands on the right side.
The DVD release is unfortunately rather limited in special features, but at least what you do get is quite interesting. The Boys Are Back: A Photographic Journey is a short featurette which is simply a slideshow of behind-the-scenes images. You have the option to watch it without the commentary by director Scott Hicks, but I can’t imagine why you would take it. It isn’t all that much really, but the director gives you some interesting background on the production.
A Father And Two Sons, On Set is a very short bonus which gives you a look at the real people visiting the set. The author and his two sons meet with the actors who portray them, and short though this may be, it is pretty fascinating to see how things turned out.
Take a look at some clips in the player below.