Lowdown: A recently widowed husband contends with parenthood.
Being a parent is hard. Every sane parent knows that (and everyone who is not a parent is almost certainly underestimating matters there). I concur but I also wonder: If things are this hard for a normal family with both parents around, I can only imagine how bad they are for single parents. I do get a glimpse of that every week now, with me staying at home one day a week to look after my two year old on my own. The experience has its rewards, but it's damn hard!
Tell this to Clive Owen's character in The Boys Are Back, an Australian production from Aussie director Scott Hicks (with the marvelous Shine under his belt). Owen is a British sports reporter living at a rural residence in South Australia (where Shine was set, too) with his Aussie wife and young child. Quickly after the film starts we learn the wife has cancer, and quickly afterwards she dies, leaving Owen to look after the child. But how the hell does one look after a child, especially when one was mostly away for work during most of the child's life, making only the occasional star appearance?
So Owen has to learn and learn quickly. But that's not the end of it: he also has to make a living, still a sports reporter required to attend sporting events; the internet can only get you that far. And then, if that wasn't enough, we learn that Owen actually had a previous wife (and a child) back in his old life in England. That other child is looking up at him, too, with his own demands. Poor Clive Owen!
Owen has his own unique way of dealing with the situation. His way involves utter freedom, the cancellation of all rules, and always saying "yes" to his kids. Which, as can be expected, leads the film towards some interesting developments.
I like The Boys Are Back. I liked it a lot. It's not only Clive Owen being probably my favorite actor at the moment; it's the way the film is so well made and extremely well directed, too. Hats off to Hicks, as he's done what I consider the best direction work I've seen in a long while here.
What I liked the most about The Boys Are Back, though, is its attitude. This is not Hollywood cutie-cutie parent meet children relationship; this is for real, this is in your face, and this does not shy away from confrontations but rather seeks any confrontation it can put its hands on and deals with them thoroughly. The Boys Are Back is a genuine film about parenthood, a film that can actually teach you something; which turns it to an excellent film about contending with life's hardships to the best of one's abilities.
Sure, I disagree with Owen parenting style. I think it's important to set a frame of reference for the world to the kids, in the shape of rules. This, I suspect, helps them better digest the world around them improves the odds of them turning out decent. However, I don't think mine is the perfect way: as a would be anarchist I detest such rules; it's just that I think parenthood is so hard that real life compromises force me to stoop down to the introduction of rules. My point is, there is nothing wrong with the disagreements I have with The Boys Are Back; on the contrary, these disagreements make me think my own ways. I have been known to be wrong and very often so, which makes an alternative yet plausible view a learning experience.
And what better a compliment can I bestow a film?
Best scene: Early on in the film, after the wife gets diagnosed with cancer, a friend of Owen's consoles him. With positive thinking and some fighting spirit everything will be alright, he says. Owen immediately silences him, informing him the cancer has spread out so much no bullshit positive thinking can help. And I agree: I am sick of these people that really think cancer and other illnesses can be cured just with "the power of the mind"; if anything, this attitude implies most of humanity lacks the mind skills that these unique people claim to have (at least until they die of their own cancer). My point with regards to the film, though, is that the scene sets the mood for the direct confrontation attitude that dominates the film. The mood I like so much.
Technical assessment: A pretty good Blu-ray for an Aussie film that was probably tight on budget. Lovely outdoor vistas and indoor scenes that feel as though they have been naturally lit dominate the picture side. The sound is nice as well (don't expect to be bombarded; this is a subtle soundtrack), with some very nice music from ex Dire Straits man Hal Lindes that is very well recorded and provides some extra ambiance.
Overall: I've seen me some more exciting films, but it's rare to see a film so authentic, so in your face, and so easy to identify with. 4.5 out of 5 stars.