Monday, September 22, 2008

Movie Review: "Boy A"

It's taken me a bit longer than usual to put up this review, mainly because I've been crying so I can barely see the keyboard. "Boy A" broke my heart into little pieces.

Jack Burridge - played to perfection by Andrew Garfield - is a sympathetic young man trying to start a new life, having spent most of his childhood and teenage years in prison for a terrible crime. He gets a job, makes friends, falls in love, all with the wide-eyed amazement and gratitude that comes with having a second chance. But deep down, he's still scarred by his past, and by his constant fear that someday it'll catch up with him. In that sense, he's traded one prison for another.

In my opinion, this movie isn't so much about the question of criminal rehabilitation as it is about the things people do to each other, good and bad. Chris drugs Jack without his knowledge - it's a friendly gesture on his part, but it leads to Jack losing control at a point where he's desperately trying to pull his fragmented life together. Zeb destroys everything simply because Terry loves Jack more than his own son. Philip is a victim who became a victimizer.

In fact, of all the characters in the movie, Jack's the only one who doesn't do anything wrong. One of the most heart-rending scenes is when his secret is discovered, and he breaks down crying that he's "not that boy". This is where Garfield's brilliant acting comes in: he's so sweet, so easy to love, so grateful for the simple kindness people show him, that you want him to be right, you want to believe that whoever he used to be died in prison and he's someone different, someone with a clean slate. Tabula rasa. But, of course, it doesn't - can't? - work that way.

It helps that the film is ambiguous as to whether Jack actually committed the crime he was accused of... but then, ambiguity is something "Boy A" uses very well. Certain questions are raised that go without answer: what really happened to Philip? Was Michelle there on the dock, at the "end of the line", or did Jack just imagine it - wishful thinking for the life he almost had and then lost? And what really happened to Angela Milton that day under the bridge? We don't know, because there are no easy answers.

A powerful film, all in all. I salute director John Crowley and the cast of "Boy A" for putting together a superb drama. I'm less happy that my eyes are all red and I look like Puffy the Vampire Wailer, but it was worth it.