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The Boys Are Back - drama DVD / arthouse and international DVD review
THE BOYS ARE BACK Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Actors: Clive Owen, Laura Fraser, Emma Booth, George Mackay, Nicholas McAnulty, Emma Lung
Director: Scott Hicks   Studio: Miramax
DVD release: 26 January 2010   Runtime: 104 minutes (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
DVD Features: Aspect ratio 2.35:1, Audio tracks (Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround - English, Spanish), Subtitles (English SDH, Spanish), The Boys Are Back: A Photographic Journey, A Father and Two Sons On Set

Clive Owen shows some interesting depths, both in character development and acting ability, in this remarkable movie, based on Simon Carr's book The Boys are Back in Town. The book is set in New Zealand, but director Scott Hicks (Shine) moves the locale to South Australia, his home stomping grounds. After all, the story, while beautifully filmed in Australia, is a story about people, families, and living through grief.

Clive Owen's character Joe Warr is a sportswriter with a major Aussie newspaper chain. Deeply in love with his wife, dynamically played by Laura Fraser, Joe's life is good. He adores his six-year-old son, Arthur ("Artie," played by Nicholas McAunulty), and enjoys the travel involved with his job. His wife's sudden illness and pending death put the movie right where director Hicks wants it - in a close, often searing, look at families in grief. Shocked to the core, grieved in multiple ways, Joe struggles to give young Artie stability and assurance in the face of the inexplicable. Hearing himself say "no" one time too many to Artie's childish requests, he spells out in kiddy letters on his refrigerator - "Just Say Yes" as a new philosophy of life. Author Simon Carr, in his book, calls it "Free Range Parenting," and certainly the minimal rules household will make some parents and grandparents watching feel queasy, as it does character Joe's mother-in-law, Barbara.

Then, to complicate Joe's life further, he hears from his teenaged son Harry, (George McKay) who wants to come to Australia for an open-ended visit from his English homeland. Harry's mum still lives in England, where she and Joe lived as a married couple, and needs Joe to take a hand in rearing Harry. Trepidatious at first, Joe decides to face the situation and add young Harry to the mix. Upon Harry's arrival, the flow of living changes between Joe and Artie. Harry is unsure of his father's affection and frightened by his father's no-rules household. Struggling to gain a foothold in his new world, the only sane thing in Harry's life is his budding relationship with his half-brother. Slowly the trust builds and new relationships and understandings are forged, only to be (seemingly) irrevocably damaged by a series of circumstances that send Harry running away and leave Joe and Artie bereft.

As the movie moves to its climax through the lush rolling hills and valleys of Southern Australia - including scenic vineyards and brief glimpses of Melbourne and England - Joe learns as a father that despite the favored story of his youngest son, Peter Pan doesn't really exist. In addition, he acknowledges that Never-Neverland, while a lovely myth, can't take the place of a loving father who admits his mistakes, loves his sons unequivocally, and cherishes every moment of their boyhood.

A good strong cast makes this true-to-life story jump off the screen and into viewers' hearts. Well worth the 104 minutes of watching time, be sure to watch the great bonus features, which include a great series of still pictures from the set, with Scott Hicks' narration (and great captioning, which is always appreciated!) and a glimpse of the true-story dad and grown sons (now about 17 and 25 years of age) on the set.
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reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
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