In The Boys are Back, tough guy actor Clive Owen gives a very different performance – which might be the best of his career. Best known for his Bogart-esque work in Sin City or his rage filled alpha male in Closer, Owen leaves that behind for his work here as a recently widowed father struggling with his own grief – trying to deal with his own devastating loss and the impact it is having on his young son.
As Joe, Owen goes places as an actor he has never gone before, sinking deep under the skin of this character to create a full bodied, real person that we might encounter in our lives. Heck, it could be a reflection of us one day. Every husband fears the day their wife dies, even if we do not admit it out loud, but when it happens to Joe he can barely deal with his own pain because he knows he must deal with his son. When his older son from another marriage returns home, the house is turned upside down by a father who says yes to whatever their demands might be, hoping it is the right thing to do. Of course he will learn it is not, and settles into his role of being father and mother, though it is a struggle for all of them to deal with that process.
Owen is brilliant here, bringing to his role the pain of a man left behind, but also touching the anger, and the five stages of death we go through when either dying or someone close to us passes. Scott Hicks made it clear he was aware of Dr. Kubler-Ross’ theory of those stages, anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and though he did not explore each specifically, he kept each in mind while making the film.
Based on the memoirs of Simon Carr, the film explores the gender divide in parenting without ever falling prey to stereotyping. Rather, Hicks and his star, who gives a towering performance, paint a sensitive portrait of a father becoming a a greater father to his sons when they need him most, making clear he needs them just as much. In his best works, Shine and Hearts of Atlantis, Hicks displays a strength in dealing with male relationships, but never as deep and as fine as he does here. This is a film filled with honesty and pain, but dominated by love and the knowledge that even after immense loss, we carry on. We have to… the alternative is unthinkable.
I had a chance to sit down with both Owen and Hicks and will write that interview for this site later today, for now make it a point not to miss this wonderful film if you get a chance to see it.
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