Boy A

The Weinstein Company
John Crowley/United Kingdom 2007

I was a bit apprehensive at the outset of John Crowley’s new film Boy A, a British psychological drama-thriller about a young man starting a new life after being released from prison. The plot seemed promising, but I have a weakness for inscrutable accents and lanky Englishmen, so I was concerned that my judgment might be compromised. Fortunately, Boy A is an exceptionally solid, beautifully crafted film featuring equally exceptional performances. Most notable is Andrew Garfield, who plays the main character Jack, also known as Boy A, a moniker he received after committing a brutal, mysterious crime in his boyhood. The film begins with Jack’s release from prison and re-entry into society. Shy and awkward, he is aided by his case-worker, Terry (Peter Mullan), who has faith that he can transition successfully into a normal life under a new identity. Jack is told to put his past behind him, to concentrate solely on his future. If necessary, police protection is only a phone call away.

As Jack finds a job, makes friends, and attempts a fresh start, we are given glimpses into his past through tense, fleeting flashbacks. Crowley keeps a steady, controlled pace as the plot unfolds: poetically repeating images, giving us answers piece by piece, not unlike an Atom Egoyan film. The entire film has a tightness and efficiency that is remarkable. Even the briskest scenes are well-developed, while the more lurid moments are wisely left to the imagination. Through it all, Garfield gives an impressive performance, using facial expressions in a way most actors could never get away with. Constantly widening his eyes, furrowing his brow, and biting his lips, Garfield’s Jack is someone who has simply never mastered hiding his emotions.

Soon after getting a job at an industrial loading dock and making some friends, he is introduced to the company’s secretary, Michelle. Although Jack’s friends dub Michelle “The White Whale,” they admit that she’s bright, funny, and attractive, and encourage Jack to reciprocate her advances. Michelle successfully draws Jack out of his shell, and as their love grows, so does Jack’s unease at his duplicity. Hiding his former identity from his friends and lover weighs on him, but the media frenzy at the time of his release makes telling the truth an unpleasant prospect. During the film I was skeptical that the public would still care about a crime committed 14 years prior, no matter how brutal. I was proved very wrong after doing some research on Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, two 10-year-old British boys whose story closely parallels that of Jack’s.

I would like to say that the climax of the film is equally as complex and controlled as the first two acts, but even terrific acting, editing, and a very realistic sex scene could not distract from the fact that Boy A did not exactly know how to end itself. For a film that delves so well into notions of examining the past, reinventing oneself, falling in love, and starting over, it attempts to tie things up a bit too neatly for my taste. Reprehensible behavior is explained by concrete events, such as sexual abuse or an absentee father. While it doesn’t negate the excellent storytelling that preceded it, the formulaic nature of it was a bit disappointing.

Overall, however, it’s a film that has firmly planted itself in my mind since I’ve seen it, and for more reasons than just Garfield’s good looks and lovely accent. Given the subject matter and the popularity of the original book, Boy A could easily have been a two-and-a-half hour Hollywood film with a bloated budget, perhaps starring Colin Farrell as Jack and a wizened Nick Nolte as his caseworker. Instead it was a dense, beautifully shot, and well-acted drama. For the sake of moviegoers everywhere, I’m grateful that the story ended up in Crowley’s capable hands.

© 2008 Maggie Glass. All rights reserved.

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