Clive Owen doesn’t consider his latest role, as an embattled widower struggling to earn his parenting stripes while raising two rambunctious boys, much of a stretch.
But seeing him in Scott Hicks’ “The Boys Are Back” may surprise fans more accustomed to the Bond-like sophistication he displayed as an MI6 agent in last spring’s “Duplicity,” or to his tough-guy turns in “Sin City” (2005) and 2007’s “Shoot ’Em Up.”
That’s not to say Owen, 45, has gone soft.
Joe Warr, the cheerfully permissive patriarch he plays in “Boys,” which opens the Mill Valley Film Festival today and in theaters Friday, isn’t a pushover so much as an enabler.
His just-say-yes approach to parenthood is dangerously irresponsible, a fact hardly lost on his sons, 6-year-old Artie and his teenage half-brother Harry. Yet Joe remains a sympathetic figure because his desire to be a decent father is never in question.
For Owen, himself the married father of two daughters, Hannah, 12, and Eve, 10, it was Joe’s shortcomings — the very qualities that make him seem genuine — that drew him to the film.
“He’s a very fallible character,” Owen says. “He’s not naturally very good at family life, and this is a volatile time for him. There are moments when things get out of hand and he makes big mistakes, but ultimately you see that he’s trying to do the right thing in his own way.
“I understand that. I’m a parent, and parenting is complicated. I’ve always kept that part of my life separate from my movies. But this film explores a big part of my life, and does so in a very lovely way. How could I pass that up?”
While Owen admits he’s not the strictest disciplinarian at home in London — “My girls are quite canny in their ability to trick me into doing their bidding,” he says — he is understandably hesitant to defend Joe’s most reckless indulgences, as when he goes for a drive with Artie on the hood of his car.
Owen, who will be honored Friday at the Mill Valley Film Festival, laughs at the thought of the scene, which provides one of the movie’s most memorable images.
“I do think we’re very quick to say no to our kids, and there is something valuable about keeping an open mind,” he says. “Obviously, Joe takes it too far. But it’s funny, because some people are really freaked out by that scene, and others are less so.
“Often it’s the women who freak out, and the guys, like Joe, who think it’s not too bad.”
IF YOU GO
The Boys Are Back
Starring Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, Emma Booth, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay
Running time 1 hour 44 minutes
Note: The Mill Valley Film Festival screens “Croupier” and hosts a Q-and-A session with Clive Owen Friday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. Visit www.cafilm.org for details.