For the first time in recent memory Clive Owen isn’t relying on his physical side to carry a movie. 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, Clive 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 (Laura Fraser) 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 which 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. “Shouldn’t the state intervene to make sure a woman looks after children?” he says. On a more mundane level, the housework comes as a shock, even though, as he says, “I’ve watched so much of it over the years.”
“The Boys Are Back” shows a side of Owen we haven’t seen for a while. He’s spent the last few years on the action tip, making movies like “Shoot ‘Em Up” and “Sin City,” violent films that relied on cartoon theatrics. They’re entertaining but “The Boys Are Back” is something different. It showcases Owen’s intensity but the theatrics have been packed away with the weapons and what’s left is an emotionally raw study of a man who learns that “life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the road.”
The gravitas he brings to his action roles works well here as his character shifts from light hearted father to widowed single guardian of two. He shows his versatility, breaking fee of the typecasting that has kept him in action movies, and hands in his best performance since 2006’s “Children of Men.”
Equally impressive is Nicholas McAnulty as the six-year-old recipient of Joe’s questionable parenting skills. In his acting debut McAnulty gives a completely natural performance. Rupert Grint look-a-like George MacKay also fares well as a teen rebel who just wants to get to know his dad.
“The Boys Are Back” does a good job at showing what it is like to lose someone and have that person remain in your life even when they aren’t physically present. It is a study of grief and how to best deal with a sudden profound loss, but at the end of the day it is the performances that recommend the movie.