Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Boy A"

John Crowley's "Boy A" is the sort of uber-serious, high-minded drama that is going to engender more respect and solemn appreciation than outright enthusiasm. I was initially tempted to shrug it off due to the familiarity of its themes and occasional predilection toward the dramatically convenient/coincidental, but there's a unique power to the arc its title figure goes through that's stayed with me since I saw the film at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. The movie follows a young man, Jack ("Lions for Lambs's" Andrew Garfield), who's just been released from prison for a horrific crime he committed as a child. As he attempts to begin a new life, having missed out on all the experiences one has while growing up, Jack receives tremendous support from his parole officer (Peter Mullan) while finding himself unable to escape the society that condemned him for what he did as a boy. While the movie is almost punishingly (if effectively) dour, there are also moments of levity and quiet joy that resonate, and the performances by Garfield and Mullan are truly great. I don't really know why this is being released in the summer, because these are exactly the sort of performances that could engender awards support at year end, and thus motivate people to see the movie.

I'm still torn about the movie's structure, which intercuts the present-day narrative with flashbacks that slowly lead up to showing us what Jack did. I like what it's trying to do -- revealing the crime after we've gotten to know the guy, making us question whether a criminal's past or present is more important, and asking what we can forgive -- but it also comes off a wee bit like exploitation, leading up to the money shot of a disturbing act of violence. You'll notice moments of cliche and elements you recall from similarly-plotted pictures, but what carries you through it is the the feelings you have for Jack and Garfield's refusal to make him someone you're entirely comfortable with. We deeply sympathize with this guy, but we also pity him and occasionally, are unsettled by him. The places the story goes ultimately resonate, and it's capped with a hell of a haunting final shot that's stuck with me more than anything in the film. Some people are going to love "Boy A's" emotional power and moral complexity, while others may find it a bit too relentlessly moody -- for the "Mamma Mia" crowd this is not -- but even during its familiar beats, it's never less than absorbing, and has more than enough merits to recommend it.

"Boy A" opens tomorrow July 23rd exclusively at the Film Forum in New York, Friday July 25th at the Landmark Nuart in Los Angeles, and expands to select cities in early August.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt the main character was far too passive during the murder. That way we never really condemn him as a character. We're always prompted to feel deeply sympathetic. That way there's no ambiguity on behalf of the audience toward his tragic suicide.

I was looking forward to a film that attempted to develop a guilty villain into a respectable member of society that recovered from guilt. It fell short of being truly bold and brave...

Brilliant review dude, I've really enjoyed reading your blog.

1:06 AM  

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