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Boy A
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by Lybarger

"This one deserves both a first and second chance."
4 stars

The new British film ‘Boy A’ poses a question that is easy to ask but nearly impossible to answer: Can we ever really escape from our own misdeeds?

Because there is no quick or definite answer to this question, the bleak but hardly joyless movie is consistently involving. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe (the Irish duo behind the pitch-black but wildly energetic comedy “Intermission”) unfold their tale (from novelist Jonathan Trigell) gradually, forcing viewers to piece it together on their own.

“Boy A” opens on a fresh-faced young man (Andrew Garfield) who doesn’t look a day over 21 opening up a crisp new pair of Nikes and announcing to his mentor Terry (Peter Mullan) that he wants to be called Jack.

Jack’s face may be glowing with innocence, but he’s carrying a secret that fills him with guilt and could lead others to persecute him if the word ever got out. That’s why he must now assume a new name.

A decade ago, he (played as a child by Alfie Owen) and one of his peers (a convincingly creepy Taylor Doherty) senselessly murdered a classmate. Because the two were underage, Jack was dubbed “Boy A” during the trial, and his old identity has been erased.

Seeing the outside world for the first time, Jack now has a job and gradually makes friends. While no one around him knows of his past, his adjustment to his new surroundings is tricky, to put it mildly.

His time in slammer has stunted some of his social skills, and the dangers involved in alcohol and drugs only gradually reveal themselves to him. His inability to talk about his childhood prevents him from feeling close to his new girlfriend (Katie Lyons).

Even if Jack can keep his secret safe, his case drew considerable public attention, and national tabloids are still running sensational stories about him. Some stories even feature computer enhanced images that look a little too much like his current face. There are even vigilantes on the prowl waiting to punish him in ways the legal system couldn’t.

Garfield makes Jack’s situation compelling by making him earnest enough to care for but just dark enough to make viewers wonder if he could become his own undoing. You can see rage slowly creeping across his features, making you wonder if he can ever escape the forces that got him in trouble in the first place. Because there is some good in the lad, it’s hard to not want him to succeed even as fate and his own guilt make it more difficult for him to do so.

Garfield’s performance is also helped by the fact that neither he nor his cast mates look like movie stars. None of these folks are homely by any means, but because they look like people a viewer might encounter outside a theater, the film’s scenario is much easier to believe.

The only readily familiar face in that of Mullan, whose turn is as engrossing as Garfield’s. Terry’s caring attitude toward Jack is contrasted by his awkwardly distant relationship with his own son.

Crowley tones down the manic approach he applied to “Intermission,” but the modestly budgeted “Boy A” has an intriguing visual style that keeps the film from looking like a movie of the week. Individual shots are selectively focused putting the viewers into Jack’s perspective. Often we can’t make sense of things until he can. As a result, the film becomes like a mystery, even though its outcome is all but preordained.

In the end, Crowley and O’Rowe treat their viewers with the respect that should be given to adults as they ask if Jack is entitled the same.

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originally posted: 08/26/08 09:44:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/25/10 Dave Gripping 4 stars
1/12/09 J Cassidy Great story; beautiful cinematography 5 stars
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  23-Jul-2008 (R)
  DVD: 07-Oct-2008


  DVD: 07-Oct-2008

Directed by
  John Crowley

Written by
  Mark O'Rowe

  Peter Mullan
  Andrew Garfield
  Katie Lyons
  Shaun Evans

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