Review: About a ‘Boy’ with a past

As its ex-con protagonist with a notorious past experiences the everyday blips and occasional bangs of a constructive new life in a society that deems him evil, “Boy A” tells a story too compellingly human to be anything but engrossing. But plot contrivances and an excessive attempt to reap sympathy for the title character significantly weaken this Brit-gritty drama.

Director John Crowley, whose “Intermission” was all surface sizzle, has teamed again with “Intermission” screenwriter Mark O’Rowe for this adaptation of Jonathan Trigell’s novel. Again the filmmakers deliver human connection, but they get impressively bleaker and somewhat deeper with this social drama and character portrait.

Given a new identity to protect his safety, 24-year-old “Jack” (Andrew Garfield) hopes to bury his former existence as “Boy A,” who, at the age of 10, along with a sociopathic friend, murdered a schoolgirl.

With the support of caseworker Terry (Peter Mullan), newly released Jack finds housing and a delivery job in Manchester. He enjoys friendship and romance with co-workers Chris (Shaun Evans) and Michelle (Katie Lyons), respectively.

Things darken when a heroic act performed by Jack and Chris leads to the discovery of Jack’s old identity by the bloodthirsty tabloids. The public responds wrathfully toward Jack.

You can’t help but root for this film, which thoughtfully addresses issues such as the effects of a rotten childhood, the impressionability of children and the importance of second chances.

Crowley’s tone of sun-splotched bleakness proves highly watchable, and a Ken Loach-style humanism enhances dimension. Scenes in which introverted Jack opens up to confident Michelle, or clicks with mates over drinks, sparkle.

Unfortunately, contrivances — an unlikely coincidence; a predictable subplot involving Terry’s resentful son — come into play, and an effort to paint Jack sympathetically goes overboard.

Rather than getting a complex portrait of a decent soul scarred by a dark streak, we’re given sweetness, shyness and uprightness in proportions that challenge credibility.

The revealing, via flashbacks, of Jack’s childhood crime inadequately conveys its brutality. The passive-dominant interactions of the two boys lack the fascinating intricacy of similar dynamics in “Heavenly Creatures” or “Let Him Have It.”

The cast, meanwhile, triumphs. Garfield, once you get past his superficial resemblance to Tony Perkins, registers a wealth of emotion on Jack’s face and, while limited by the filmmakers’ focus, creates a resonant character. Mullan is excellent as the devoted Terry. Lyons brings naturalistic spark to the girlfriend role.

Credits

Boy A (two and a half stars)

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Katie Lyons, Shaun Evans

Written by: Mark O’Rowe, based on a novel by Jonathan Trigell

Directed by: John Crowley

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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