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The Boys Are Back
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The Boys Are Back – Review

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Joe is a British sports journalist who left his wife Flick (Little) and son Harry (MacKay) for an Australian sportswoman, Katy (Fraser), who he interviewed while covering an equestrian event.
Some years later, he’s now living in Australia with Katy and their young son Artie (McAnulty).
When Joe loses Katy to cancer, he’s left having to look after Artie – and the house – with the back-up only of his over-protective in-laws.
With a tough sports editor expecting him to drop everything to travel the world for the newspaper, Joe finds it tough to cope, but the mother of one of Artie’s school friends, Laura (Booth), soon becomes a good friend and lightens his load.
But an unexpected visit from Harry throws another spanner in the works. Harry is lost – he needs his father – and needs to know why his father ran off and left him.
But Joe’s finding it hard enough to deal with just Artie, so having Harry on board too, just when the Australian Open Tennis is about to start, piles on more pressure than he can take.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

After the recent The Road and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, it’s interesting to see a third take on the father-son dynamic in as many weeks.
With a story that’s as warm as it is contrived, this film rests on the strength of the performances and Clive Owen – in a role with a depth we don’t often see from him – and the actors playing both of his sons deliver exactly what is needed of them.
As he struggles to cope with his own bereavement, without showing weakness to Artie and the outside world, Owen handles the contradiction between confidence and insecurity with tremendous warmth, humour and empathy.
As a young child, the realism of McAnulty’s Artie is all the more impressive – an actor that young cannot possibly understand the implications of the demands that are being made of him, yet his character is as cute and offbeat as any real-life pre-schooler, and he carries off the occasional tantrum with the delicious authenticity that would try the patience of any adult. Owen must be some kind of angel to put up with him with such grace.
The maturity of MacKay as an actor is also impressive as he flips between a responsible older brother and the lost soul who’s flown half way around the world to find the missing purpose to his life.
The build-up of the plot and characters in the first two acts is highly effective, but the twists and turns of the third act are so contrived as to let down the whole film, trying to cast us down and lift us up with the regularity of a pneumatic drill, turning what would have been an impressive character drama into a sub-soap-opera that can’t be taken seriously.
It does succeed in jerking the odd tear, but only through the strength of Owen’s performance, rather than any particular skill on the part of the film-makers – although the script does offer Owen a handful of delightful one-liners.
On the whole, though, it’s a huge pity that the deeper the film tries to get, the more shallow it becomes.
There are nice touches – such as the awkward and frustratingly strained relationship that develops between Owen and Booth – but by the time you get to a cliché-ridden scene at an English railway station near the end, you’ll wish the boys had gone back far sooner.

opens nationwide 22nd January 2010

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