Friday 2 July 2010

BOY A review

Following the news that Andrew Garfield has been cast as Peter Parker in the next Spider-Man film, we thought we'd have a look at one of his early roles, Boy A.
More after the jump...

Jack (Andrew Garfield) committed a horrific crime as a child and spent years behind bars, both as punishment and to keep him away from the public who considered him evil. Upon his release with a new identity, he must learn how to start living, and catch up on all the experiences he missed whilst locked away. Can he keep his past a secret, or will the truth threaten his new life?

Based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell, Boy A bears some resemblance to the notorious case of James Bulger's young killers. It isn't based directly on that, but does draw from the urban legends and hysteria that surrounded the two boys jail terms and eventual release. In this film we see the lives of two young boys, Eric and Philip, both from troubled backgrounds who find a kindred spirit in one another. They're not evil children, but are undoubtedly messed up, and commit a heinous act that leads them to infamy.

Both boys are locked up for their crime, with Philip not surviving his sentence. The quiet, shy boy Eric emerges from his cocoon as Jack, a quiet shy man who can write his own future. He may have been guilty of a serious crime, but Jack has an innocent soul. He wants to experience all the rites of passage he missed growing up; his first legal pint, his first sexual encounter, and just being ones of the lads.

He finds a new life working in a warehouse and delivering goods, and manages to make friends with Chris (Shaun Evans) and attract the attention of Michelle, the brassy secretary. He starts to build a network of friends that know nothing of his past and like Jack for who he is.

Jack is watched over by Terry (Peter Mullan), his case worker. Terry doesn't see Jack as an animal or a monster, but as a once messed up kid who's earned his second chance. Terry has become separated from his own family, and sees Jack as his substitute son. It is his achievements he is most proud of.

I'm a huge fan of Peter Mullan's work. He's one of the UK's finest and most underrated actors who always chooses great projects. He's recognisable to most as Swanney in Trainspotting, but was also outstanding in The Claim and My Name Is Joe. He has a knack of playing these world weary father figures, and is great here as the only person who knows Jack's past and still cares about him.

The turning point of the story is Jack and Chris's discovery of a crashed car. They both act quickly to save the life of the young girl trapped inside, and are heralded as heroes by the local press. This inadvertently may lead to Jack's downfall, his identity no longer as anonymous as it once was. His first major step towards redemption may also lead to him sacrificing his new life.

The film takes on a different structure than the novel which had an A-Z chronology of events. Here the story flashes back to when Jack was still Eric, an emotionally crippled young boy who befriends a kid hounded by his own personal demons. The film leads up to the act that both boys committed, intertwining with the revelations about Jack's former life.

As for the lead performance by Andrew Garfield, he's excellent as the shy boy having to quickly become a man, and he makes Jack a very sympathetic character. As his world starts to fall down around him you can see his despair at the possibility of having to start over again. As Jack he has made friends and even found a steady girlfriend, yet he may be forced to sacrifice it all for that one mistake he'll continually be paying for.

Garfield has since appeared in the Red Riding Trilogy and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and should be able to encapsulate the nebbish qualities of Peter Parker well, though I think it's unproven that he can do the bravado that comes with the Spider-Man suit. I suppose time will tell.

A lot may find the subject of this film somewhat reprehensible. At times it is hard to separate this story from the Bulger case, and detractors may argue that they're trying to put a more gentle human face on what was a terrible act. But honestly, I don't see that as a bad thing. Despite recent revelations about one of James Bulger's killers, they were still two young boys, largely victims of their own environment. Doing something monstrous doesn't automatically make you a monster, and if you don't recognise the situations that impacted those children and learn from the mistakes, how do you stop it from happening again?

In that respect it's an important film. Just because something is reported in a tabloid it doesn't make it true, and is the mob mentality of the red tops really a sign of civilised society? It brings up themes of guilt and retribution and raises some questions about the rehabilitation of young offenders. A great drama anchored by two strong lead performances from Garfield and Mullan.


1 comment:

  1. Just watched this so thought I would re-read your piece; the film is very good and I like the points you make in your article!