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Three ways to rebuild the family

MOVIES revolving around the primal nature of the father-son relationship have been all the rage lately. Recent post-apocalyptic bleakfest The Road derived much of its emotional resonance from themes related to that bond, and, though The Boys Are Back is a much more mainstream and uplifting affair, something similar can be said about this drama directed by Scott Hicks.

Inspired by a true story, and taking the state of South Australia's stunning coastal vistas as its primary backdrop, this heartwarming feature stars Clive Owen as relocated Brit Joe Warr, a globetrotting sportswriter who finds himself propelled into single parenthood after the unexpected death of his beloved second wife Katy (Laura Fraser). Joe is left to care for their six-year-old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty).

Bereft, bewildered and conscious that his profession has left him a stranger to his son, Joe decides to take Artie on a road trip in an attempt to rekindle their relationship and adopts a "just say yes" policy for Artie's parenting on their return. Results are mixed. Cue a Nanny 911 scenario as chaos reigns in a household that Joe affectionately refers to as "hog heaven". His "free range" approach to fatherhood is further compromised by work commitments and, more tellingly, the arrival of Harry (George MacKay), Joe's Brit-based teenage son from his first marriage. The reflective Harry has questions he needs answered about perceived parental deficiencies. Can domestic meltdown be averted?

Such heartbreaking source material could so easily have resulted in an extended weepathon, but Shine director Hicks' understated approach succeeds in delivering something a good deal more substantial. Owen's agreeably restrained turn in the central role, allied with the authenticity at the heart of the story, ensures proceedings manage to remain the right side of morose.


The Boys Are Back is now showing

44 Inch Chest

Cert: 18

In 2000, the writing partnership of Louis Mellis and David Scinto was responsible for one of British cinema's great gangster flicks. It was called Sexy Beast, and stood out from the pack thanks to a Pinteresque absurdism and Ben Kingsley's unforgettable turn as a rabid bully. Ray Winstone and Ian McShane also starred, and the two have reunited with Mellis and Scinto for this gangster yarn from first-time director Malcolm Venville.

Winstone plays Colin Diamond, a tough-nut London businessman torn apart by his wife's infidelity. Following a bust-up with the missus (Joanne Whalley), he kidnaps the interloper and spends most of the film holed up in a dusty east London room, trying to decide how to punish the young man. Helping him out with all this are crooked cockney pals played by Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane, John Hurt and Stephen Dillane. They dish out opinions, sideways glances and lots of rat-tat-tat exchanges while Winstone slouches, squints and sweats. Initially, you feel this could have something going for it.

An actor rarely stretched beyond playing the top-heavy geezer, Winstone arouses our pity as a heartbroken gurrier. Hurt is spectacularly venomous as the potty-mouthed senior citizen of the bunch, while the show-stealer is McShane's devilishly cat-like crime queen, a performance so silken that you wonder where exactly the actor ends and the character begins.

But what begins with style, pathos and more than a few chuckles soon descends into an untidy string of jabber, flashbacks and a tiresome extended dream sequence. And did the script really need all that incessant cussing? Dialogue-based and largely taking place in one room, the overall feeling is that maybe 44 Inch Chest would have had a more fulfiling existence as a stage drama, provided the screenplay got a nip and a tuck that is.


44 Inch Chest is now showing


Cert 15A

Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is a doting husband and father, a model son and soldier, while his brother Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the black-sheep son, released from prison only days before Sam is to ship back out to Afghanistan. Their father (Sam Shepard) despairs of any good from Tommy, but the black sheep does step up when Sam is declared dead, looking out for his sister-in-law Grace (Natalie Portman) and her daughters. But Sam isn't dead, the price for his survival is high, however, and his return is difficult for everyone.

A remake of a highly regarded 2004 Danish film, Brodre, by Susanne Bier, Jim Sheridan's more mainstream American version inevitably suffers by comparison, in some quarters just because it isn't in a language other than English. The fact that it deals with the American military also changes the emotional loading from the original, but the film's strength lies in the way it generalises about the effects of war, all war, rather than a specific one. Grief is grief, trauma is trauma; there is more to survival than living, and many people are affected by one event.

As the title suggests, the dynamic here is between the brothers, the roles that have defined them forever are changed, so what happens then? The male roles are somewhat cliched, and, while the main female role is reactive, it is in many respects the most original. Portman underplays the mother who just has to keep going whether she likes it or not, in contrast to Maguire who, possibly miscast, goes in for lots of staring. Where Maguire overacts, Gyllenhaal is under-stated. As usual, Sheridan coaxes depth from the child actors too.

There have been several recent films vying for the title of "Deer Hunter for the Afghanistan generation", and Brothers joins them. It isn't flawless but it does work both as a portrayal of grief in its many forms and as a strong anti-war statement emphasising how destructive war is of souls as well as bodies.


Brothers is now showing

Sunday Independent