Like Steven Spielberg, director Scott Hicks is tuned in to those everyday moments that touch our hearts. You may well cry – I did – at “The Boys Are Back,” but Hicks doesn’t use hammers or harp strings; the emotion is honest and earned.
Clive Owen, a fine actor who’s usually doing something much louder, exudes a quiet, manly sadness as Joe Warr, a British sports journalist leading a happy life in Australia until his wife develops cancer and dies, leaving behind a 6-year-old (Nicholas McAnulty). The little boy, Artie, develops a habit of lying on the floor as if comatose; he’s pushing away a world that would dispose of his mother.
As Joe and Artie find a new way of living together – including such innovations as undressing in front of the washer and dressing in front of the clothesline – another character joins the mix: Harry (George MacKay), Joe’s teenage son from a previous marriage, comes to live with them.
MacKay beautifully conveys the not-so-hidden vulnerability of a teen thrust into a new environment, with a dad who once left him behind. McAnulty, an enchantingly natural child actor, makes us believe every giggle and every tear.
Based on a memoir by Simon Carr, “The Boys Are Back” has some script problems; a nasty grandma (Julia Blake) feels unnecessary, and you spend much of the movie cringing that Joe will be neatly tossed together with the blond single mother (Emma Booth) at Artie’s preschool.
But ultimately, it’s a pleasant, often quite moving story of three boys together, all at different stages of growing up and moving on.