REVIEW: Boy A [2008]

“Evil comes of age”

Time to catch up on the indie releases that I missed in 2008, those films that decided to bypass Buffalo on their limited theatrical runs. Boy A has been on that list for a while now, ever since I saw the trailer, one that captivated me completely. That short advertisement didn’t lie as the film is definitely a winner and worth seeing for fans of dark and emotionally gripping dramas. Centered around a young man, just released from prison for killing a young child—when he himself was only ten—the story shows how he deals with the guilt and the scrutiny of that event, attempting to build a new life as far away from the past as he can. With the help of a caseworker who has given him a new identity and history, Jack Burridge does his best to live life for the first time, to experience what it is to be happy. However, no matter how hard he tries to leave that defining moment behind, one can never forget the fact that while he may be able to start over again, the victim of his crime will never get that chance.

The team of director John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe was added to my radar after seeing a nice little Irish flick called Intermission a few years back. Here, the two have adapted a novel into the cinematic world, using visuals to express what words needed to on the printed page. It all starts pretty straightforwardly as we are introduced to the players, and Jack begins his life and new job, meeting friends and learning about new technologies and whatever else he missed while in prison. However, once he sees a computer-generated photo of himself, aged from an old picture as a child, the façade he has tried so hard to build into his reality starts to fall apart. Seeing himself on the news makes it very hard to forget about his true identity, Eric Wilson, and flashes of memory creep into his consciousness. Crowley never hits us over the head with these glimpses into the past, but instead teases us with short cuts, Jack trying to shake the images from his mind, before finally playing the scene out. Even when they are shown in their entirety, one can never know if what’s onscreen actually happened or whether he has fabricated some of the details, (Philip Craig’s death for instance). It is an effective way to show the inner turmoil as the life around him falls apart and the one he left behind comes ever closer to the surface.

It becomes a case of absolute irony that him saving a little girl from a car crash serves as the final nail in the coffin that is his ultimate discovery. A killer becoming a hero, a publicity photograph for his place of employment puts his image out for anyone to see, including people connected to those trying to help him, people who may feel the need for misguided revenge. Boy A truly comes into its own when Jack’s identity is brought out into the open, but the journey to that point is by no means inferior to the frenetic emotional tailspin portrayed in the final half hour. A young adult going out with friends and being sexually active means he will be participating in events that could potentially crush all the work that he has done. When a friend is sucker-punched at a club, should he look the other way or involve himself in a fight that could only bring memories of the bullying and beatings he received as a child? When a woman opens her heart to love him, should he feel guilty that she is in love with a person that doesn’t exist, with a killer? That first date at Michelle’s house is a devastating scene, showing Jack naked, literally and figuratively, vulnerable and completely unaccustomed to what love could be.

While the storytelling delivers a powerful tale, it is the acting that brings those words and events to light. Andrew Garfield is fantastic as Jack Burridge, awkward and shy, reconciling his past with his future. When you see his childhood in flashbacks and realize the pain and suffering he was put through, it is tough to argue why he would befriend someone as troubled and unpredictable as Philip Craig. Here is someone that finally makes him feel a part of something, wouldn’t you do all you could to keep that alive? It’s a pretty harrowing scene when we finally are able to see how the murder went down. It doesn’t show anything as far as definitive proof that young Eric was an active participant, but you can imagine from what is seen that he didn’t stop it. He was a child then, and in many ways a child still, and Garfield portrays that perfectly.

I also really liked Katie Lyons’ Michelle, a pretty and confident girl that shows Jack what could be in the future, that perhaps he really isn’t a monster after all. Shaun Evans was great as Chris too, coworker and friend. He played the role as a fun guy, someone that could cause trouble, but in an innocent way. Not angered when he gives Jack ecstasy to his dismay, forgetting his friend is on parole, and trying to help whenever is possible, Chris is a character that you believe would forgive Jack for his past, if he had the time to do so. It is the always top-notch Peter Mullan that ends up stealing many scenes, though. As Jack’s caseworker Terry, he is there at every turn, a surrogate father for the boy and the strongest cheerleader he has. His part in the uncovering of his identity is absolutely tragic, and his final scene in his car all the more heartbreaking as a result.

Boy A is a film that will stick with you once it ends. With a conclusion as powerful as any other this year, watching may be tough to endure, but you will understand why it all must end how it does. Jack Burridge was a real person, despite the past he would have to live with. As Terry said at the start, Eric Wilson was dead. That boy who murdered a classmate no longer existed, but was replaced by a young man out of jail for car theft, a man looking to rebuild his life. Orchestrated to perfection, Crowley and O’Rowe conclude the film with the reactions of those who grew to love Jack, whether the goodbyes are real or imagined, they are never false.

Boy A 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] Peter Mullan and Andrew Garfield in John Crowley’s Boy A.
[2] Katie Lyons and Andrew Garfield in John Crowley’s Boy A.


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