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Saturday, October 4, 2008

BOY A -- DVD review by porfle

Over the years, I've occasionally seen movies that are so sad that they make me feel bad for days. This usually means that it's a good movie that has accomplished what it set out to do, which is to make me sad. BOY A (2007) is one of those movies, and boy, did it ever.

"Boy A" is the designation used during a sensational murder trial to refer to one of two young boys charged with the murder of a little girl. Now, years later, the older Jack (Andrew Garfield) is finally being paroled after growing up in captivity, and faces the world with a new name and a new chance at life. With the help of a caring parole officer-slash-social worker named Terry (Peter Mullan), Jack begins to settle into his job and make friends, and even form a tentative romantic relationship with pretty co-worker Michelle (Katie Lyons).

Eager to do well in his new life and wide-eyed with wonder at the world around him, Jack is likable from the start. But we worry that he may harbor violent tendencies that could emerge at any time, especially when he jumps in to fight off some thugs who attack his new friend Chris (Shaun Evans) during a drunken night out clubbing. However, an unexpected event crops up--one which seems contrived at first, but is played very well--which gives us a whole new concern. When Jack and Chris happen upon an auto accident and save the life of a little girl, they're thrust into the limelight, where Jack now runs the risk of being recognized by an unforgiving public who still perceive him as a monster.

Andrew Garfield is terrific as Jack, with an acting style that's totally natural and unforced--he's able to gain our empathy from the first scene and hold it for the rest of the movie. The realism and understatement of his performance make an already well-written screenplay even more effective. Since he's basically a boy in a man's body, his efforts to make friends and his first fumbling love scenes with Michelle are almost painful to watch, and we're happy for him every time he makes a breakthrough and inches closer to achieving a normal life.

As Jack's parole officer Terry, Peter Mullan (TRAINSPOTTING, BRAVEHEART) does a fine job of conveying compassion and concern for Jack, which, we'll discover later, is partly an effort to make up for a failed relationship with his own son. And in the flashback scenes which show us what led up to the initial crime, Taylor Doherty is outstanding as Phillip, an abused and very troubled boy whose friendship and influence over the young Jack prove disastrous.

Everything in Mark O'Rowe's screenplay is so deftly underplayed and effective that there's no need for big, showy scenes to reach out and grab us. John Crowley's direction is similarly restrained yet creative, brimming with imaginative compositions and impeccable photography. The score by Paddy Cunneen is similarly artful and evocative.

The DVD is in 1.85:1 widescreen format with Dolby 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles. There aren't any extras, but after the last shot of this movie, I was too stunned to care.

BOY A has no showstopper ending filled with histrionic acting and heart-tugging melodrama, yet it's as emotionally devastating as anything I've seen. Some very talented filmmakers have given us a story that's deeply moving, involving, and worthwhile, but make no mistake--they want us to feel bad. Boy, do they ever. And when Jack's wonderful new life comes crashing down around him like a house of cards, it's like one of those nightmares that won't let go even after you wake up.
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