Saturday, August 30, 2008

Boy A (2007, John Crowley)

Boy A has a lot to recommend it- an affecting premise, a feel for Manchester working-class life, and above all fine performances from Andrew Garfield and Peter Mullan. Yet I’m conflicted about the movie as a whole, in large part because of its treatment of the protagonist’s past. As a story of a young man who wants to distance himself from the murder he committed as a child, I suppose it’s understandable that the movie would want to soft-pedal this aspect of his life in order to make Eric more sympathetic. Yet this also feels dishonest to me. If the movie was really serious about examining the contrast between Eric then and now, it wouldn’t shy away from the horror of his misdeeds. It wouldn’t give him a sob-story background- distant dad, sick mum- or paint him as an easily swayed kid who fell in with the worst friend possible (it strikes me as too easy to paint Philip as a bad seed while Eric was mostly just along for the ride). And it certainly wouldn’t cut away before the duo committed their heinous crime, but instead show us exactly what he did, the violence of which he was once capable. By failing to do this, Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe fail to really look at the gulf that separates the past version of Eric from the present version, now called Jack. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Boy A wants Jack/Eric to come across as a put-upon victim of people’s conceptions of his past, but making him a murderer without really facing the reality his crime is timid at best and irresponsible at worst. It’s too easy to demonize those who victimize him for his past. A braver film would force us to examine our own feelings about the character, to ask whether we can hate the sin but not the sinner.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

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