Friday, August 17, 2012

Film Review: Boy A

Notes: This film is based on the novel Boy A by Jonathan Trigell. This review contains minor spoilers.

"Jack" (Andrew Garfield) -- formerly known as Eric Wilson -- is a young man, newly released from prison, seeking a fresh start with a new identity. As a child, he participated in a heinous crime. He must quickly learn to be an adult and function in the world. He is guided by "Uncle Terry" (Peter Mullen), who has devoted his life to mentoring troubled youth. Terry is compassionate, supportive, and optimistic; he is also a problem drinker who has been estranged from his own son.

The movie follows two parallel story lines. In one, we see Eric as a lonely, estranged child whose parents are emotionally paralyzed by his mother's illness. He is unsuccessful in school, friendless, and a target for bullies. When he meets a troubled boy named Philip Craig (Taylor Doherty), who has a chilling tendency toward sociopathic rage, they quickly form a close bond.  In the other story line, we see the adult Jack embarking on his new life, with all its successes and missteps.


In some ways, Jack -- whose childhood was cut short by his incarceration -- still seems like a young kid. He appears innocent, kind, and socially awkward, quickly winning the viewer's affection and empathy before we know anything about his past.  This guides us in the direction the film-maker wants us to go. When the story of Jack's past begins to unfold, we have already formed a bond with this character. Even as we learn the darker aspects of his story, we care for him, trust him, and root for him to succeed. This is a reversal of what Jack faces if his identity is revealed. The public has already seen "Boy A" in the courtroom, a child who committed an incomprehensible atrocity. If that becomes known, no one will look past that, seeing the man he has become.

Throughout the course of the film, Jack reveals courage, loyalty, and a capacity for love. He soon finds a new friend, Chris (Shaun Evans) and an affectionate, compassionate young woman, Michelle (Katie Lyons). However, as he finds himself falling in love for the first time, it becomes increasingly difficult to hide the truth. 

Boy A is one of those films that -- for me -- is hard to leave behind. This story is told onscreen with lifelike realism, and Jack and Michelle are so young and utterly likeable. Terry, as the dedicated, caring, and flawed rehabilitation worker, seeking validation for himself -- and perhaps redemption for his damaged relationship with his own son -- through his work, is particularly memorable. I'll admit there was a moment when I felt a little manipulated by the movie. Nevertheless, I found it heart-wrenching, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about the story and characters.

This film offers excellent writing, acting, and direction. Andrew Garfield stands out. I saw and liked him in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, but I thought this performance, by far, exceeded the others. The imagery, created by camera angles and the way shots were framed, also helped draw me more deeply into the story and the lives of its characters.

In ways this is a challenging movie. It asks us to wrestle with difficult questions. Are some crimes, regardless of the mitigating circumstances, unforgivable? Even if the perpetrator was a child? Is it ever just to incarcerate a child? If a criminal is capable of change, does he necessarily deserve a second chance? Can a good deed balance out or erase a bad deed? And on another level, how does a person glean his sense of identity? Is it comprised of how he sees himself or who others believe he is?  

Boy A asks us to explore these questions without providing all the facts. We are left with unanswered questions about the young protagonist. First and foremost, what exactly was his role in the crime? We never see exactly what happened and who did the deed. What motivated young Eric to be involved in the incident for which he was condemned? Was it loyalty? Fear? Cowardice? In the gaps between the events of this movie, there are shadowy areas that leave us wondering.

The result is a movie that is thought-provoking as well as emotionally wrenching. I suspect it will continue to stick with me, provoking uneasy thoughts and feelings, for a long time.

Rating: (4.5/5)
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6 comments:

  1. Sounds extremely interesting! Thanks for the thought provoking review.

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  2. I would like to check out Andrew Garfields performances prior to The Amazing Spiderman and The Social Network, and this looks like a good place to start. Great review

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    1. I will be very interested to see what you think of this movie.

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  3. I've never heard of Boy A but I do like films that like you say are hard to leave behind. This sounds like an interesting one. Great post.

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