Great films can change your life. They can expand your world and enhance your appreciation for the scope, depth, and nuance of art. Unfortunately, there's a downside to seeing great films too: they provide a measure against which ordinary films come up short. Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Solaris is fine on its own, but if you've seen Andrei Tarkvosky's superior adaptation you can't help but regard it as second rate. Similarly, Walter Hill's Last Man Standing might be tolerable so long as you've never seen Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars or Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn't limited to remakes. Scenes of couples quarreling in public inevitably invite comparison to Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and all chamber dramas risk being measured against those of Carl Th. Dreyer or Ingmar Bergman. Alas, this brings me to John Crowley's made-for-British-TV movie, Boy A. Had I never seen the Dardenne brothers' The Son (Le Fils), I'd probably like it better.
Boy A begins with a fact pattern reminiscent of The Son but moves forward in a decidedly less imaginative direction. Both films concern the reintegration of a young man into society after a lengthy childhood incarceration for homicide. Both films touch upon themes of rehabilitation, retribution, forgiveness, and psychological continuity, yet whereas The Son is absorbing, thought-provoking, and unnervingly thrilling from start to finish, Boy A goes through the paces towards a conclusion that's never in any doubt. At heart, Boy A is a film with a message (an after school special for adults if you like) and that message can only be delivered in the starkest terms possible.
Boy A is further diminished by unsatisfying cinematography which too often shifts to an unduly limited focal range (sometimes no more than a single ear) or which simply leaves everything blurry. Whether this was done primarily in the HD camera by cinematographer Rob Hardy or in post production by editor Lucia Zucchetti is unclear, but the effect is the same.
Boy A's saving grace though is the stellar acting of Andrew Garfield who fully inhabits the role of Jack, the 24-year-old man-child reentering society after a fourteen-year incarceration. Garfield appears to effortlessly convey the nervousness, insecurity, inexperience, puzzlement, guilt, sincerity and tenderness of Jack. Garfield artfully conveys the essentially good nature of Jack and makes us care about him even as the plot grinds towards its gloomy anticlimax.
Garfield's tour de force performance is ably bolstered by competent performances from the supporting cast. Of particular note is veteran Scottish actor Peter Mullan in the role of Jack's caseworker. Mullan essentially reprises aspects of his outstanding character performance in Ken Loach's My Name is Joe, but it still works here.
Boy A is presented in its original televised aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The color palate is cool but not unrealistically so. The DVD appears to have been mastered directly from the HD source material. Though there is slight motion blur at times, I suspect this is true of the original presentation as well and that it is not attributable to a poor PAL-to-NTSC conversion. Having not previously seen Boy A, I can't rule out that some of the shortcomings on the image are attributable to the transfer, but I suspect not.
Presented in 5.1 DD, the mix for Boy A is front heavy with underwhelming bass. Optional subtitles are available in Spanish and English for the hearing impaired, though a further option of standard English translation (i.e., without subtitles noting the sound effects) would have also been welcome given the thick working-class, northern British accents.
Except for trailers for other releases which play on start-up but are not accessible from the DVD menu, there are no extras on this release.
Boy A is a better-than-average, albeit predictable, made-for-television movie blessed by an outstanding performance from its lead Andrew Garfield and competent performances from its supporting cast, especially Peter Mullan. Despite misgivings about its unimaginative script and questionable cinematography, Boy A is recommended. Viewers who haven't yet seen the Dardenne brothers' far superior 2002 film The Son are likely to enjoy it more than those that have.