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March 2010

Boy A

cast: Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Siobhan Finneran, Shaun Evans, and Katie Lyons

director: John Crowley

102 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Gary Couzens

Boy A
SPOILER ALERT!
Two schoolboys, Eric Wilson (Alfie Owen) and Philip Craig (Taylor Doherty), were convicted for the murder of a classmate, Jennifer Milton. Now, seven years later, Philip is dead - we don't find out how - and Eric comes up for release. With the aid of care worker Terry (Peter Mullan), Eric (now played by Andrew Garfield) has a new name, Jack Burridge. A new town, a new job, a new girlfriend in the shape of Michelle (Katie Lyons)... but an act of charity brings attention to himself and questions begin to be asked as to who 'Jack' really is...

Given the media coverage of the rehabilitation of children who murdered other children, for example the two killers in the James Bulger case, it's not surprising that writers explore such themes in fiction. I haven't read the Jonathan Trigell novel on which Boy A is based, but I have read Anne Cassidy's 2004 young-adult novel Looking for JJ, which fudges its premise in a similarly to the film of Boy A.

Boy A was shot on film although it premiered on television in the UK: it had a cinema release elsewhere. There's no doubt that it's well made (with some notably shadowy lighting from Rob Hardy) and the acting is excellent. (Andrew Garfield won several awards for this performance.) The script, by Mark O'Rowe, has some false notes in the shape of some less-than-convincing dialogue. However, I found this film uncomfortably manipulative in its playing for sympathy for Eric/ Jack. I can't detail my misgivings without revealing some major plot spoilers. If you don't want to read them, please skip to the final paragraph of this review.

As Jack attempts to build a new life, the events of the past unfold in flashback. It isn't subtle: a remark about "falling under bad influence" cuts to a shot of lonely Eric playing with his only friend Philip. It's not long before some warning notes are sounded: Philip likes playing such games as throwing bottles at passing cars, bunking off school, fighting bullies, and shoplifting. He's also an abuse victim, having been repeatedly buggered by his brother (which he describes in some therapy-speak which is unconvincing coming from the mouth of a 17-year-old).

Then he fishes an eel out of the river and brutally kills it. The next flashback is a courtroom scene where the prosecuting counsel describes both boys as evil and deserving of being locked away for as long as legally possible. The murder scene is held to near the end of the film, out of sequence... and it becomes clear that the murder is all Philip's work. The scene ends with Eric bewilderedly holding a Stanley knife while Jennifer screams off-screen. So he's not a killer after all. And the real killer is conveniently dead. So this film has set up a premise then ducked out of actually dealing with it.

Optimum's DVD is encoded for Region 2 only. The transfer is in a ratio of 1.78:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The soundtrack is available in Dolby digital 5.1 and Dolby surround. The former comes into its own with some heavy bass in a nightclub scene and some directional sounds during a rollercoaster ride. The extras are the trailer and a 15-minute interview with the director. This is done EPK style with text questions appearing on screen, followed by video of Connolly's answers.



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