Boy A (2008) dir. John Crowley
Starring; Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Katie Lyons, Anthony Lewis
One of the rare gems of the year has been quietly released on DVD this week – “Boy A”. If you’ve heard of it, it’s because it played on the festival circuit last year. The British drama was released last year abroad and received 7 BAFTA nominations, winning one for Andrew Garfield’s stunning breakout lead performance. It’s a devastating film, anchored on internalized emotions.
“Boy A” is set in working class Manchester. The film opens with a simple conversation between Jack and Terry. Jack (Andrew Garfield) is a young 20-something just being released from prison for some kind of juvenile crime. Terry (Peter Mullan) has been his rehabilitation officer and sole confident during his incarceration. Jack is not his real name, but one which will give him anonymity in society. Once out Jack gets a job as a local delivery driver. Gradually he comes out of his shell, makes friends, and even begins a slow courtship of a young gal from work. Just when life is looking up, Jack’s past comes back to haunt him sending him in a tailspin which threatens all the progress he’s made.
Crowley is careful about revealing his information. Terry and Jack talk quietly about characters and events we don’t know about and flashbacks to Jack’s youth don’t seem to match up to the heinous crime Jack committed as a kid. But over the course of the first two acts we gradually learn about the crime, its effects on the community and reasons for Jack's secrecy.
There’s not a lot of story to tell, but the timing of these reveals are key to understanding Jack’s character. If, at the beginning, we knew of the crime Jack committed, we may not have the same sympathy for him as an adult. So in a way Crowley puts the audience in the shoes of Jack’s new friends. Jack’s central conundrum is his need to confess his secrets to Michelle. But Terry, who has become his father figure, is dead set against telling anybody anything. The risk is just too great for Jack.
Garfield dramatizes this frustration with a wonderful internalized performance. Through Jack's expressions and reactions, the pain of his lies to the woman he loves is as painful as the crime he committed. Would Michelle love Jack the same if she knew the truth? Would the audience love him the same if we knew the truth off the top? If you see the film, it’s an easy question for us to answer, but for Jack, it's not so certain.
So without much plot or action, the complexities of Jack’s internal struggle carry our attention with edge-of-your-seat tension.
John Crowley’s eye is impeccable. For each scene he covers the action with a unique set of creative and visually stunning frames. Whether it’s a formal profile, or symmetrical centre-framed of Jack visual metaphors are subtly burning into the audience’s mind. While his frames are distinct, they aren’t untraditional or over-stylized. Crowley is a relatively new voice in British cinema. "Boy-A" is only his second feature film after 2003's "Intermission" with Colin Farrell.
Outside of Garfield’s intense internalized performance “Boy-A” is a film about perspective. In the final act Jack’s identity is revealed to the public and his life quickly begins to crumble. We’ve all heard stories of heinous acts of violence committed by youth on other youth. And the crime in this film could easily be a headline-grabbing sensation in today’s media. By setting his perspective on Jack exclusively, Crowley forces us to confront our own value system and our ability to forgive. Enjoy.
"Boy-A" is available on DVD in Canada from Alliance Films, and in the U.S. from "The Weinstein Company"