Andrew Garfield in Boy A

Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to highlight films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…

the UK! We last visited England with the entertaining coming of age movie, Son of Rambow, a film that explored the unlikely friendship and shared interests between two young boys. It was funny, sweet, and engaging. This week we take a different and darker angle on a similar theme and emerge with an even better film, one that explores the risks of childhood and the rewards of adulthood and asks the (tag line) question, “Who decides who gets a second chance?”

Boy A opens with two men at a table. Terry (the fantastically authentic Peter Mullan) is a middle-aged caseworker, and Boy A (relative newcomer Andrew Garfield) is a twenty-four year old who has just been released from prison. His moniker was assigned to him by the press when he, along with Boy B, were put on trial for an unspecified crime they committed fourteen years prior. The two men discuss the rules of his release, the most important of which is to never reveal his true identity to anyone for fear of reprisal. The young man chooses his new name, Jack, and he’s released into the world. Terry helps him find an apartment, gets him a job with a delivery company, and provides constant support and encouragement. We meet Jack as a shy and delicate young man, and as he begins to make friends with his co-workers he’s also making friends with us. This immediate affection and concern for Jack’s well-being is due in large part to Garfield’s affecting performance. He draws us in with Jack’s wonder at the kindness of others and his ironic innocence.

As we come to know and like Jack, Boy A slowly dolls out flashbacks to a troubled childhood of bullies at school and a cruel lack of attention at home. Young Eric, which is Boy A’s real name, meets Philip (soon to be Boy B) and the two become fast friends bonded by shared miseries and frustrations. Philip’s home life is even worse than Eric’s, as his existence is punctuated with sexual assaults from his older brother that have helped move him from violent anger to animal cruelty and beyond. As these flashbacks move closer and closer to the crime, the present day moves closer to an inevitable event as well. Jack meets a girl and falls into an awkward and real relationship, but he begins to feel like he’s lying to her by not sharing his secret. While on a delivery drive, Jack and his friend/co-worker Chris come across an accident scene where they rescue a young girl. The duo become local heroes, complete with a photo in the paper, and soon we begin to notice the omnipresent risk to Jack’s safety found in security cameras, photos, and possible recognition. Jack’s feelings of guilt, self-worth, and redemption swirl in his head and he wonders (along with the viewer) just how attainable his happiness truly is… and does he even deserve it? When the inevitable happens, it’s less a plot point about the ‘why’ or the ‘how’ and more a simple and unecessary tragedy for all involved.

Director John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe have crafted a harrowing and heartbreaking drama about the sins of the past colliding with the hopes for the future. Two minor missteps, one involving the predictable outcome of Terry’s relationship with his own son and the other a highly improbable meeting at the film’s end that may or may not have been imagined, do little to diminish the beauty and raw emotion of Boy A. It’s not often that a film can challenge a rigid and long-held moral belief, but this film does just that. The fact that it can do so while at the same time captivating and entertaining with warmth, wit, and an amazing performance is even more impressive.

Boy A releases on DVD 10/7/08.

The Upside: Incredible performances all around, but especially from Andrew Garfield; suspenseful; challenges convictions; neither melodramatic nor sensational of the topic.

The Downside: Terry’s relationship with his own son is under-developed and predictable; reappearance of a character at the film’s end is either an unclear fantasy or an absurd coincidence.


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