By Dov Kornits

There’s no denying that parents will get the most out of Scott Hicks’ 2009 Australian film, The Boys Are Back. The relationship between workaholic Brit expat, Joe (Clive Owen), and initially his son, Artie (Nicholas McAnulty), and later his older son, Harry (George MacKay), is the big beating heart of this emotive drama, which will have you weeping within fifteen minutes of its first frame.

When his wife, Katy (Brit Laura Fraser with an Aussie accent), is diagnosed with terminal cancer, roving sports journalist Joe reassesses his life and decides to change his priorities, taking charge – in his own blokey way – of his South Australian country homestead and his young son, Artie. But it’s not long before Katy passes away, and Harry, Joe’s son from a previous marriage, turns up on his distant father’s doorstep, pushing him further to confront familial responsibility.

Nowhere near as big a hit as it should have been, the profoundly moving The Boys Are Back boast an Oscar worthy performance from Owen, whose charm transcends the story’s potential bleakness, and turns it into a hopeful one. “I’ve never been frightened of showing the emotional side of a man,” Owen told FilmInk in 2009. “That’s the joy of acting: there’s always something emotional underneath, and however people present themselves, it’s about tapping into that and expressing that. I’ve never been afraid of showing the more emotional and sensitive side of myself.”

Clive Owen and Nicholas McAnulty in The Boys Are Back
Clive Owen and Nicholas McAnulty in The Boys Are Back

Owen was obviously aided in his performance by Scott Hicks, whose assured direction – particularly evident in the pacing and his ability to elicit phenomenal performances from the child actors – points to a director at the top of his game. “One of the most powerful elements about Clive on screen is that he has the capacity for great stillness,” Hicks told FilmInk. “There are many actors who can express it, but it often looks very ‘busy.’ Clive can be very still, and the camera finds that fascinating. You’re drawn to him because there’s also a powerful inner life going on. You sense it in his eyes: swirling emotion and other feelings and other thoughts. That appealed to me enormously, because this character is a man trying to keep everything under control. He only lets emotion out when he’s alone, and even then he tries to hold himself together for the sake of his boys. Clive really was the perfect choice. The world of casting is cruel. You rarely get your perfect choice, but in this case, it was fantastic that he felt that connection with the material as well.”

The truly cinematic lensing by Greig Fraser (Last Ride, Snow White and the Huntsman, Zero Dark Thirty) lends proceedings a slick but natural glow, and the judicious use of the beautifully melancholic Sigur Ros on the soundtrack are just two more of the abundant treasures to be found in this must see local film. The Boys Are Back is well worth seeking out, but make sure to bring the tissues.

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