The Boys Are Back
d. Scott Hicks / Australia-UK / 2009 / 104 mins
Viewed at: Screen 12 @ Odeon (Norwich, UK)
You know you’re watching an Australian film when every outdoor shot is full of flies and it never rains (until it pours), and you know you’re in South Australia when they’re drinking Coopers, Farmers Union and Nippys and watching Port vs. Norwood games on the tellie.
Of course, you also know you’re watching a British-Australian co-production when the cast is lead by a Brit who (mercifully) isn’t trying to put on an Australian accent (of course, if it were an American film, they would have simply cast the Brit as an Australian – or vice versa – but that’s another matter). Such is the case with The Boys Are Back, the latest feature from South Aussie made good, Scott Hicks, which features Clive Owen as an alpha-male sports journalist and single father gone rogue.
All in all, this is the usual gentle drama from Hicks, and whilst there isn’t any major spark here and it’s not a cinematic landmark of any sort, The Boys Are Back manages to maintain a steady, engaging and enjoyable pace. Hiccups come with the clunky, oft-repeated motif of the wife ‘visiting’ Owen’s character from beyond the grave, to provide much needed parental advice, as well as the whole Peter Pan / ‘Lost Boys’ analogy, but a combination of well-written characters and solid central performances allows the film to rise well above the impending schmaltz.
Simon Carr’s autobiographical novel, The Boys Are Back in Town, has been capably translated to the screen by respected television scenarist Allan Cubbitt, with each of the central characters written in a naturalistic style that eases audiences through their failures and successes. Again, this is also due largely to the strong performances all around, and there really isn’t a dud amongst them. And although I will happily admit that I’ve never understood the appeal of Clive Owen, you never once doubt the sincerity of his character, nor think that he is anything other than the struggling single father he portrays.
Now, as an Australian living overseas, I’ve remained purposefully ignorant of local reactions to The Boys Are Back. And since I like to consider myself, in principle, a steadfast supporter of Australian cinema and the Australian production industry in general, I think films such as this are, in some ways, almost better seen whilst living overseas, removed from the incessant petty politics and point-scoring which still seems to pervade large parts of the Australian screen industry (including, but certainly not limited to, journalists and critics). And I don’t think, for one second, that such feelings are the result of some kind of longing for a mythical ‘Australia’, but simply that the tyranny of distance allows the space for much more considered viewing experiences.
And so whilst this physical and mental distance might allow expatriate Australians the opportunity to see their society at a remove, it also provides space for a greater understanding of how others view Australian society and its cinema. In fact, I think it’s an often forgotten fact amongst some Australian commentators that audiences around the world experience cinema in much the same way as the average Australian, as an audiovisual portrayal of the exotic and the unknown.
So whilst an Australian critic might not care to see the mundanities of their own country on screen, those in distant lands (and plenty more at home) might. Indeed, where the Australian industry succeeds (and fails) is in its ability to translate the everyday experience of Australian life on to the screen, and in its ability to open up these exotic and unknown spaces to locals and foreigners alike.
But enough blathering about the state of Australian cinema, and to a couple of other things in conclusion; starting with my only real complaint: Having chosen to set his film in Adelaide and surrounds – although its not mentioned directly – does Hicks really expect us to swallow the idea that a sports reporter working for The Advertiser (essentially a provincial outpost of the Murdoch media empire, albeit in the city where it all began) would be sent to Wimbledon, let alone Melbourne, to cover the tennis? If you know Adelaide, and you know The Advertiser, you’ll surely know that just aint gonna happen.
Secondly, and on a much more serious note, I couldn’t let this write up pass without mentioning how great it was to see so many of my former Flinders classmates stacking the credit list, with at least one actually making it on to the screen in a small speaking role. Oh, and let’s not forget that Hicks is an alumni also – Go Flinders!