Mention Clive Owen, and chances are you'll think of that suave persona playing no less than roguish characters ranging from secret agents to well, erm, the go-to man if you want things done. Like Jackie Chan in The Spy Next Door, he's about to discover that the biggest challenge of his cinematic career is parenting, and in The Boys Are Back, Owen sheds his larger than life, indestructible spy characters for the role of Dad, and a complicated one too in having to reconnect with two boys from different marriages.
Based on the memoirs by Simon Carr, Owen stars as Joe Warr, a British sports news reporter now living in Southern Australia with his wife Katy (Laura Fraser) and son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). But an unforeseen tragedy forces him to rethink his priorities in life, and figure out just how to cope with bringing up a kid, having no experience when he abandoned his ex-wife and his son Harry (George MacKay) from a previous marriage. So he hatches what he thought was a brilliant plan, and that's to bring Harry to Australia, and together, as a trio, would seek out new adventures in their parent-child relationship, imposing no rules other than to listen to him when commanded should the boys get out of hand.
The opening sequence would give rise to a certain expectation of how this film would play out, and little would you guess just what the beach going public was cursing at Joe for. It's this no holds barred growing up adventure that elevates this beyond just another movie with mourning and longing, where the protagonists realize that their unorthodox ways of bonding together, forging strong family ties, is just as easy and fragile as it is to be torn down.
Scott Hicks doesn't sugar coat the film with saccharine sweet moments, but instead offers some real pragmatism in what one would expect in a household lacking a woman's touch. And as a male I too abhor household chores unless it's absolutely necessary, so watching how the art direction of the Warr household just brought out that smirk that the filthy pig sty, erm, isn't far off from personal experience.
But it's not always just about the boys, as the narrative did offer a sneak peek into another what if moment, where budding romance with Laura (Emma Booth) was suggested at, though smartly worked on in not allowing it to overshadow the examination of the main relationships in the film about a father's attempt to connect with his sons, and them with each other. You'd wish for more given Booth's fine performance as the divorcee giving out all the right signals, only being frustrated that they're not acted upon with some degree of sincerity, with that unfair feeling of always being used.
For those familiar with what Clive Owen does best in his cinematic, larger than life personae portrayed on film, this role of Joe Warr would lead you to believe the the actor certainly has dramatic chops for more serious, father roles even. With excellent tracks by Sigur Ros, The Boys Are Back is one film that manages to get under your skin and make you feel very much for the dysfunctional family trying to find its rudder in the confused world they live in.