Paternal and fraternal bonds are the order of the day in The Boys Are Back, the new film from Scott Hicks (Shine) which sees Clive Owen's sports journo Joe Warr tasked with looking after his two sons down under. The father of the teenaged Harry (George MacKay) from an earlier marriage, his life moves on to Australia after he weds Katy. The pair have a son together, Artie (McAnulty), but tragedy strikes as Katy loses a painful battle with cancer. Left alone to care for Artie, his life is complicated when Harry arrives from the UK to spend quality time with his dad.
As Joe has to deal with grief, he watches as Artie struggles to process it, or, maybe more accurately, is too young to know how to. The house quickly starts getting messy and falling to pieces with no female influence in the boys' lives. When Joe switches his parenting method from strict to laid-back and laissez-faire, the pair start to find a deeper emotional connection. A potential love interest circles Joe in the form of Emma Booth's single mum Laura (though the pair's relationship is strictly platonic) and the moody Harry's arrival adds a new edge to the plot. Harry holds some resentment towards his father, blaming him for abandoning him when he was young, and looks on with bemusement and envy as Joe engages in pillow fights with his youngest and lets him leap into filled bathtubs.
Hicks makes impressive discoveries in his two young supporting stars (both completely at ease in front of the camera), but there's a lot to be said for Clive Owen's performance. Known recently for gun-totting action heroes (Shoot 'Em Up) and smooth tricksters (Duplicity), here he gets a role to sink his teeth into. The scene where he telephones Britain and informs his eldest Harry that Katy is dead is brutal, and Hicks frames the shot close up in Owen's face as he starts to weep. It's one of many emotional punches in the film and - by virtue of its simplicity, actor and director working in perfect synch - one of the best.
Much of today's movie output is aimed at young men and boys. Be it the latest science fiction extravaganza, a horror flick populated by scantily clad babes or a comic book adaptation. They appeal to the big kid in most of us, tapping into that corner of the mind that craves escapist fun. Here, though, is a quintessential boys film to admire with no explosions or pixelated action sequences. This is the perfect movie to watch with your dad, brother and granddad - one that examines the unique connection between male family members; there's plenty of bravado, mischief, tantrums and heartbreak along the way. The Boys Are Back would be an ideal Father's Day outing, but it'll have to make do with being a heartwarmer for a chilly January cinema visit.
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