With 'The Boys are Back' Clive Owen has upped his game, but seeing as his last big screen outing was the disappointing ‘The International’, that’s not saying much. However, his central role in this heart-warming family drama also broadens his range from that of action hero-turned-troubled protagonist.
Inspired by a true story and set in Australia, Owen plays Joe Warr, a globetrotting, British sports journalist whose life falls apart when his wife, Katy (Fraser), dies from cancer. All of a sudden the single dad finds himself home alone with their six-year-old son, Artie (McNulty). Not only that but he also has a troubled teenage son, Harry (MacKay), from his first marriage back in England. Forced to reassess his priorities, the grieving dad struggles to find a work/life balance. Eventually, as the broken, disturbed pieces of their lives begin to settle around them, his new family learns to live with their unconventional reality.
Directed by ‘Shine’s Scott Hicks and based on the real-life memoirs of Simon Carr, ‘The Boys are Back in Town’, the film is a touching insight into a father’s bond with his sons. Hicks does resort to some shameless heart-string plucking tactics such as melodramatic narration, reappearances by Joe's dead wife and an increasingly filthy, fly-ridden home, showing just how lost Joe is without a woman in his life. One glimpse of that and social services would soon leave him trying to cope without his kids, too. Or if his slovenly behaviour didn’t do it, his heavy drinking surely would.
Still, Owen, who also produced the film, is wonderful as the increasingly sensitive father who slowly grows into the role thrust upon him. In addition, MacKay’s raw, convincing performance as the teen, struggling to deal with his parents divorce, helps to restore much needed balance.
Going by Greig Fraser’s cinematography and that of Baz Luhrmann’s recent (flawed) epic, we’d be forgiven for thinking Australia is the most stunning country in the world. The scenery in both films is breathtaking with an array of sparse, desert settings contrasted by endless seascapes and acres of rich, fertile fields.
With the focus on the heartbroken, three male leads, Hicks may well have invented a new genre... the male weepy.