A single-dad story from Down Under

George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Clive Owen (from left) in "The Boys Are Back." Owen plays a widowed dad, MacKay and McAnulty his sons.
George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty, Clive Owen (from left) in "The Boys Are Back." Owen plays a widowed dad, MacKay and McAnulty his sons.
Posted: October 09, 2009

The Boys Are Back, adapted from a Down Under newspaperman's I'm-a-single-dad memoir, is full of possibility: Possibilities for mawkishness, for sap, for one big pity party.

But thanks to Clive Owen - who stars as Joe Warr, the transplanted Brit whose loving wife succumbs to cancer and who is left to raise his young son and cover the Australian Open - The Boys Are Back finds its emotional truth, its power. An actor who knows how to keep still when the camera's on him, and whose stoicism and strength give way to vulnerability at only the key moments, Owen connects with the material - and with the young actors playing his 6-year-old boy, and then, a third of the way in, his teenage son.

It also helps that director Scott Hicks - working in his homeland for the first time since 1996's Shine - has set The Boys Are Back in some of the most stunning countryside on the planet. The film was shot in South Australia, in an area around Adelaide dotted with wineries, with rolling brown hills that lead onto rocky sea cliffs and long beaches, with the kind of light and sky that a painter (or cinematographer) would die for. The charming bungalow where Owen's Warr lives is tucked into the hills in a suburb of the city; his mother-in-law (the regal Julia Blake) runs a vineyard. Kangaroos wander in and out of the landscape like surreal extras.

Joe Warr is a star sportswriter for a national daily. He lives with the beautiful, ethereal Katy (Laura Fraser). They have a precocious son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). And he has an older boy, Harry (George MacKay), whom he left behind in England, with his first wife. When Katy dies, Joe takes Artie on a crazy road trip and then brings him back home, deciding that the best way for his boy to deal with the grief is to let him run wild. There are no rules, no discipline, and nobody doing the dishes. The house soon turns into a sty - or "hog heaven," as Joe calls it.

It's a parenting philosophy born out of loss. And it definitely has its downside.

Into this chaos and clamor comes Harry - an unhappy boarding-schooler who longs to reconnect with the father who abandoned him, who traveled halfway around the world to set up a new family. But Joe's focus remains on Artie, devastated by the death of his mother. Harry struggles to make some connection with his dad, but Dad isn't listening.

A young, attractive single mother (Emma Booth) whose daughter attends Artie's school enters the picture, bringing with her the possibility of romance - not to mention shared parenting responsibilities. But thankfully, Allan Cubitt's adaptation of the Simon Carr book doesn't follow a typical Hollywood course. Relationships - between men and women, fathers and sons - are more complicated in real life, and The Boys Are Back deftly acknowledges that fact.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

|
|
|
|
|