The majority of Crowley's sophomore effort, after the jumpy gangster flick Intermission, focuses on the redemption of this young man in the public eye. Given the new handle Jack (Andrew Garfield), the titular young offender finds a job through his rehabilitation specialist Terry (Peter Mullan) at a warehouse and delivery service. With a new best friend named Chris (Alfie Owen) and Michelle, his new receptionist girlfriend (a superb Siobhan Finneran), Jack starts feeling at home in the small shady room he's given. The public remains unaware of him until, fatefully, he helps save a young girl from a car accident and gets his picture in the local news.
A character study where mood trumps history, Crowley's film has a lot to do with a crime and almost nothing to do with the criminal. The murder, shown in flashback in the film's last quarter, explicates Jack's emotional inertia, but the crime mostly affects the tone of the film, both in its camerawork and its editing. The camerawork, courtesy of the young and talented cinematographer Rob Hardy, has a misty effect on the story, as if shrouded in the still-thick haze of Jack's uncertainty. As a character, Jack moves forward into his relationship with Michelle and his camaraderie with Chris, but the look of the film is stalled on unshakable regret.
Jack is played by the young actor Andrew Garfield, who played the insolent student to Robert Redford's holier-than-thou professor in the misguided Lions for Lambs and, earlier this year, Francis Watson in The Other Boleyn Girl. After such minor performances in minor works, Garfield's performance in Boy A comes to be a sort of revelation. Fragility is the key component of the performance, but Garfield annotates this with a protective element. He's a blowfish with an Epsom accent: unassuming and without cause for concern... until he's agitated and then quickly expands, both physically and emotionally.
Jack's violent side is only indulged once, a hypnotic sequence in a dance club mutating into a somewhat conventional brawl over a girl. What we see more is Jack's moments of quiet reverie with his three confidants, most specifically Terry and Michelle. The scenes between Garfield and Finneran are simply exquisite: a tender moment after their first tryst, a Polaroid photo shoot during a tandem bath. But it's Jack's relationship with Terry that seems more pervasive. Prizing Jack's recovery over the severed relationship with his own son, Terry has simply given up on having a personality away from his job; a fact made clear when he shares some beers with his son and drunkenly mutters about Jack as his greatest accomplishment. Mullan, the great character actor from Children of Men and the criminally-underseen Session 9, turns Terry into the film's saddest proposition: a man pinning his hopes to the tragic Jack.
Though it constantly shifts into conventional structure and suffers from an ending that feels more flustered than emotive, Boy A turns out to be an effective workout of genre mechanics. Crowley, as in Intermission, has an impressive ability to hit a stride in tone, his pacing and mood both acts of concentrated consistency. With his three central performances, the young director probes something that was also plumbed in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Peter Berg's Hancock, although obviously in a smaller context: Is the public ever interested in forgiveness, or are we just sniffing for the faintest hint of evil until the new messiah steps up?
Harp for dinner again?
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 4th September 2008
Distributed by: The Weinstein Co.
Production compaines: Film 4
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: John Crowley
Producer: Lynn Horsford
Screenwriter: Mark O'Rowe
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