Clive Owen shines in ‘Boys’

Inspired by Simon Carr’s popular memoir, “The Boys Are Back” might have been reduced to sentimental mush in the hands of a lesser director, but Scott Hicks (“Shine”) and star Clive Owen rarely strike a false note in this engaging, serious-minded tale of a widower struggling to raise two boys in the Australian outback.

Joe (Owen) is a top sportswriter, accustomed to life on the road and woefully inexperienced as a parent. After the sudden death of his second wife (Laura Fraser), he is charged with raising Artie (newcomer Nicholas McAnulty), a rambunctious 6-year-old given to wild outbursts followed by fits of near-catatonic despair.

Joe, unsuited to playing Mr. Mom, is clearly overmatched.

Things get tougher when Harry (George MacKay, of “Defiance”), his teenage son from a previous marriage, comes to visit for the summer.

Unlike Artie, Harry is old enough to recognize Joe’s most glaring shortcomings — he’s set in his ways, however misguided, and he’s not a good listener. His intentions are noble, but his parenting is boorish and wrong-headed.

Joe believes in raising his boys without structure, giving them the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them on their own, but his permissiveness often leads to disaster.

He’s slow to recognize the danger in his just-say-yes approach, not because he’s lazy or uncaring, but because he’s so stubbornly convinced that he’s right.

During one of the movie’s most alarming sequences, Joe takes a ride along the shore with Artie perched on the hood of his SUV. He never considers the possible consequences — he’s too married to the moment, acting more like a grown-up playmate than a father.

That’s part of Joe’s appeal. He’ll go to any lengths to please his sons, but all too rarely does he consider the risks in his choices.

Owen, who seemed so effortlessly self-assured in movies like “Duplicity” and “The International,” plays a very different character here, one who’s learning on the job and forced, finally, to acknowledge his failures. He delivers a natural, unforced performance that complements Allan Cubitt’s spare, honest screenplay.

Equally impressive are McAnulty and MacKay, who convey the right amount of world-weariness without seeming calculated or precious. Along with Owen, they are the heart of a movie that walks a fine line with nary a misstep.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Boys Are Back

Three Stars

Starring: Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, Emma Booth, George MacKay, Nicholas McAnulty
Written by Simon Carr, Allan Cubitt
Directed by Scott Hicks
Rated PG-13
Running time 1 hour 44 minutes
 

artsBoys Are BackentertainmentOther ArtsScott Hicks

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Kindergarten teacher Chris Johnson in his classroom at Bryant Elementary School ahead of the school’s reopening on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD students are going back to the classroom

After more than a year of distance learning, city schools begin reopening on Monday

Keith Zwölfer, director of education for SFFILM, stays busy connecting filmmakers and studios with public, private and home schools<ins>.</ins><ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner) </ins>
Streamlined SF film festival focuses on family features

In the early days of the San Francisco International Film Festival, the… Continue reading

“Gay Passover,” a fun Haggadah, includes some cocktail recipes. <ins>(Courtesy Saul Sugarman)</ins>
A Passover journey toward something different

It was nice to see my family, and I look forward to reconnecting with friends

Oakland A’s left fielder Tony Kemp fielded a fly but missed the catch in the April 5 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Oakland Coliseum. <ins>(Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Bay Area sports for week of April 11, 2021

A look at the upcoming major Bay Area sports events (schedules subject… Continue reading

The involving historical novel “The Bohemians” imagines photographer Dorothea Lange’s life in San Francisco. (Courtesy photo)
‘Bohemians’ explores life of legendary photographer Dorothea Lange

Artist’s talent, compassion revealed in Jasmin Darznik’s historical novel

Most Read