Movie Review: Boy A

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A young man tries to start over when he’s released from a prison sentence for committing murder as a kid.

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John Crowley, 2007

Boy A follows “Jack”, formerly Eric (Andrew Garfield), as he tries to make a life for himself with his mentor Terry (Peter Mullan). He starts to settle down, adjusting to life, making friends and falling in love with a girl from work.

This film follows Jack from the moment he chooses his name. He and his guardian Terry move to a new town where he isn’t known in order to protect Jack. Not long after they settle down, Terry’s son moves in with them, seeking his father’s attention. Jack works at a delivery service where he befriends coworkers and is pursued by Michelle (Katie Lyons), with whom he forms a genuine, awkward but sweet connection. Jack tries hard to do the right thing, and even saves a young girl from a car crash. We discover his past as Eric in flashback as the neglected and bullied boy befriends a violent, abused child and they end up committing a crime so horrendous that redemption seems impossible. Meanwhile, Terry is paying more attention to Jack than his own son. He pushes Jack to move forward, to completely forget the past, but when the past inevitably catches up with them there’s nowhere to hide.

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Oh, Andrew Garfield. If I hadn’t seen him act brilliantly in a number of roles since he made this, I’d say this was the performance of the lifetime. He is incredible in this, creating a character of enormous depth and sympathy despite the horrors he committed in the past. He’s so earnest in his attempts to reform, and every small act of kindness is met by overwhelming gratitude from a boy who’s never really known any affection. The film is an examination of redemption and forgiveness, with Jack’s guardian Terry being the only person who knows about Jack’s crimes and both forgives and accepts him. There’s tension between forgetting the past and acknowledging it – every time Jack tries to talk about it Terry stops him, shuts him down, but the movie proves you can’t run from your past forever. The audience is complicit in according Jack some forgiveness, which makes his exposure all the more troubling.

The film is directed economically, the focus being on the emotion of the story rather than the cinematography. Some of it is pretty, but most is utilitarian. The biggest problem with this film is the disappointing ending; it would be hard to end the film satisfactorily, but the last few moments of this film are confusing and strange, and not in the best way. Rather than fully exploring its themes it opts for an open ending. Still, the characterisation and emotional punch of the film leading up to its ending is more than worth the time invested in this film, even if it is a hard story to watch. Andrew Garfield, man. Without such a strong lead, this film’s premise would fall down, but he makes Jack so sympathetic that it’s almost impossible not to care about the character. Outstanding.

Boy A on IMDb

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