Movie Review – Boys Are Back, The

Terrific, yet simple story, Clive Owen delivering a surprisingly good performance in a role I’d have thought beyond him, The Boys Are Back is hardly ever going to set the world on fire. It’s a heart-warming story of loss, anger and discovery, and of making hard choices in a hard situation. A delight.


– Summary –

Director : Scott Hicks
Year Of Release : 2009
Principal Cast : Clive Owen, Laura Fisher, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay, Julia Blake, Emma Lung
Approx Running Time : 104 Minutes
Synopsis: English ex-pat Clive has his life thrown into turmoil when his Aussie wife dies of cancer. Unable to relate to his young son, due to being away on a regular basis as a sports writer, and having an ex-wife and older son back in England, he must juggle the responsibility of being a parent with the loss of being alone.
What we think : Terrific, yet simple story, Clive Owen delivering a surprisingly good performance in a role I’d have thought beyond him, The Boys Are Back is hardly ever going to set the world on fire. It’s a heart-warming story of loss, anger and discovery, and of making hard choices in a hard situation. A delight.


I mentioned in my review of Charlie & Boots that we don’t write about enough Aussie-made material here at, and it’s something I’m always keen to rectify. The problem with Aussie films is that while they may be of a dramatic quality far superior to that which often comes out of Hollywood, the themes aren’t always that interesting. Sure, Aussie film cooks up some genuine winners from time to time, such as Shine, Babe, Wolf Creek, Phar Lap and many others, but usually our film industry puts out films destined to be viewed by a minority rather than a majority, which is disappointing. Aussie films are pretty damn fine across the board, although since our industry doesn’t have the financial backing of Hollywood’s billionaire set, we can’t produce an Inception or a Transformers every second week. So we make the films we can afford: quality dramatic explorations of the human condition.

What he didn’t know was that there was a snake right next to them.

The Boys Are Back, directed by Scott Hicks (Shine, Hearts In Atlantis, No Reservations) and filmed entirely on location here in the home state of South Australia, is a film one can only describe as “lovely”. Seeing the countryside around Adelaide, particularly the Adelaide Hills down south along the Fleiureu Peninsula, always gives me a great sense of pride in the achievements of this state. Plus, I don’t think the Hills have ever looked so magnificently summer-y. The glorious sunsets and brown tinged hills, rolling under a clear blue sky, mixed with the sound of the Magpie squarking amongst the tree branches, is iconic South Australia. Waking up to the sound of early morning Adelaide, wind sweeping through the gullies and the lashings of royal blue sea in the distance, is one of the great life experiences.

British ex-pat Joe Warr (Clive Owen) lives with his second wife Katy (Laura Fraser), and son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), in the Adelaide Hills, and writes a sports column for the local paper. Their relationship is one of compromise, mainly for him, since he’s always travelling for his work, and barely knows his own son. Paralleled to this, his ex wife back in England (as well as his first son Harry, played by George MacKay) also have a somewhat estranged relationship with him. When Katy dies from a mass of cancer riddling her body, Joe is left to raise Artie alone. Katy’s mother Barbara (Julia Blake), who also mourns the loss of her daughter, feels that Joe isn’t a responsible parent and uses some passive/aggressive sniping to make her feelings known. Joe is pushed to invite Harry to Australia for a holiday (although it becomes apparent that his ex-wife wishes to start a new life and family with her current boyfriend, leaving Harry essentially without a home or family), in a kind of test run for their relationship. Things take a dramatic turn when Joe must travel to Melbourne to cover the Australian Open tennis championship, leaving his two boys home alone; critical mass is reached when a gang of older kids arrive to use Joe’s house as a party pad.

It wasn’t comfortable, but it WAS cool.

Director Scott Hicks makes beautiful films, of a language purely Australian. Tapping into the laid back attitude of his countrymen, Hicks allows the story to meander along like a good yarn told at a pub, unassuming and pleasant. This isn’t a hurried, choppily edited piece of slick-slide entertainment, rather it’s a measured, well intended character piece about loneliness, responsibility and loss. Joe, in his grief, imagines Katy to still be around, advising him and spurring him on to a relationship with Artie. Artie, as the young son mourning the death of his mother, finds himself alienated from his father, although the rebound effect of the tragic death of Katy is one that will elicit a few chuckles from the audience. Joe and Artie’s relationship develops into an almost brotherhood-style Lord Of The Flies mentality. As Joe slips slowly into bachelorhood once more, the house and living standards become slovenly and ill-kempt. The rules are… well, there are almost no rules save that of having fun. When Harry arrives from England, he’s even more distant to Joe than Artie is, although with him being older, he’s less walled up than his younger half-brother, and at first his resistance is limited.

Pillowfight!!!! C’mon dad, fling that sucker!!!

Clive Owen does a great job as Joe, a far cry from the more stoic, po-faced roles he’s had in films past (Children of Men, The Bourne Identity, Croupier, The International) where he’s been unable to emote anything past a basic smile or grin. I’ve always found Owen’s ability to grab an audience depends on either how suave-cool he’s supposed to be, or grimly determined. With The Boys Are Back, it’s the most accessible I remember seeing Owen being, and it’s refreshing. Sure, he mopes about for a bit, staring anguished into the distance and scowling a lot; but when he lowers his guard, he’s actually a great character actor to watch. Young Nicholas McAnulty, as Artie, is a real find; for a child actor he performs well above his years (for the most part) and his screen chemistry with Clive Owen feels genuine. George MacKay doesn’t do quite as well as Harry, his stuttering, camera-sensitive portrayal of the troubled and sensitive teen a little stagey, a little child-performance-esque, and reduces some of his scenes to a “how not to” acting class.

Paparazzi start young in Australia.

Where The Boys Are Back differs from many dysfunctional family dramas is in its nuanced characterisations; each of the cast do their utmost to deliver realistic, sensible performances that aren’t derivative of the Hollywood-ised “look at me” style. The film isn’t the most fast paced, swiftly done storyline, nor is it a bore. The Boys Are Back (which isn’t the best title, I’ll admit) is a shining example of a genuinely moving, affecting film, and yet another simple entertainment from Scott Hicks. Gorgeous to watch, I can recommend it to you without any hesitation.






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