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A softer side of Clive Owen RICHARD CROUSE FOR METRO CANADA September 17, 2009

clive_owen_03At this year’s TIFF, tough guy Clive Owen is showing a different side of his cinematic self. He doesn’t kick, punch or shoot his way through The Boys Are Back. The only pain he inflicts here is emotional.

Based on a true story, Owen plays Joe Warr, a top sportswriter with a perfect life. He travels the world covering sporting events, has a beautiful wife and a young child. When his wife is diagnosed with cancer and succumbs to the disease after a short fight, Joe’s life is turned upside down. The existence he knew disappears, replaced by a new reality that only makes the longing for his late wife all the more acute. When a son from his first marriage arrives, he must learn how to be a father to two kids he barely knows.

The Boys Are Back shows a side of Owen we haven’t seen for a while. He’s spent the past few years on the action tip, making movies like Shoot ’Em Up and Sin City, violent films that relied on cartoon theatrics but he hasn’t always just made movies that involve shooting and killing.

In Vroom, his big screen debut, Owen plays Jake, the sauve owner of a restored 1950s Chevrolet. Unemployed and unhappy, Jake, his friend Ringe (David Thewlis) and a middle-aged divorcee played by Diana Quick hit the open road to escape the crushing burden of Thatcher-era oppression. It’s a by-the-numbers road flick, but the young Owen is already showing his soon-to-be trademarked charisma.

More highbrow is Gosford Park, a murder-mystery period piece directed by the late, great Robert Altman. The film shows the murder from the POV of the guests and the servants. The murder, however, is a McGuffin, simply a ruse to tell a story about class distinctions in Britain. Appearing alongside every British actor in the English actor’s union, Owen plays Robert Parks, the valet to a wealthy land owner. It’s a sumptuous-looking movie, filled to the brim with fine acting and topped with a great performance from Owen.

Owen also proves he doesn’t need a gun to steal scenes in Century, another period piece that would make a great double bill with Gosford Park.

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