Boy A

2007, Movie, R, 100 mins


Based on the acclaimed novel by Jonathan Trigell, which was in turn inspired by the infamous murder of 3-year-old James Bulger by two Merseyside 10-year-olds, director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe's follow-up to their feature film debut INTERMISSION may follow an all-too schematic flashback structure, but the film is too brilliantly acted for that to really matter much.

After serving 14 years in prison, 24-year-old Eric Wilson (Andrew Garfield) is about to reenter society with not just second chance at a normal life, but a new name -- he's chosen "Jack Burridge" -- and a whole new identity. Eric doesn't really have a choice, not if he wants to stay alive. Back in the mid-1990s, Eric was the child known to a horrified world as simply "Boy A," one of two young boys who were convicted of committing a savage crime. During the trial, the notoriety and public outrage surrounding the case -- much of it provoked by a bloodthirsty tabloid press -- made it necessary for the courts to disguise the real names of the accused, lest vigilantes exact revenge. Indeed, a few years after their conviction, Philip, Eric's partner-in-crime, was found hanged in prison and even though Eric's case worker, Terry (Peter Mullan), assures him that it was a suicide, Eric understandably has his doubts. Terry warns Eric that his would-be executioners are still out there and tells him he must be very, very careful never to divulge the truth about his past. Upon his release, Terry accompanies "Jack" to his new home in an anonymous working-class neighborhood of Manchester where, for his own protection, he'll be watched by a "protection squad," and sees him settled into a boarding house where, for the first time in his life, Jack will live on his own. Terry promises Jack that he'll never be further than a phone call away, but Terry's life gets a bit more complicated than he anticipated when his son, Steve (Anthony Lewis), unexpectedly surfaces and begins to resent the attention his estranged father has lavished on a relative stranger. Jack, meanwhile, begins work at a delivery warehouse -- as far as his employer (Jeremy Swift) is concerned, Jack served time for boosting cars -- and soon forms a close friendship with his work partner, Chris (Shaun Evans). Before long, the shy, good-looking guy they all know as a Jack even has a girlfriend, Michelle (Katie Lyons), a good-time girl from the front office who makes it very easy for him to ask her out. Their growing intimacy tempts Jack to come clean about his past, but soon the situation is out of his hands. Fleet Street is once again stoking interest in the true identity of the freshly released Boy A, and after a good deed by Jack and Chris attracts media attention, his anonymity -- and is life -- is in danger.

As Jack's new life unfolds, we witness the childhood he can never escape through a series of flashbacks. Young Eric Wilson (Alfie Owen) is a lonely 10-year-old with an indifferent father and a terminally ill mother who's slowly dying of cancer. Brutally bullied by older boys, Eric's deliverance comes when he meets Philip Craig (Taylor Doherty), a pint-sized terror who at first protects Eric from his tormentors -- with disturbing violence -- then eventually leads him to commit an almost inconceivable crime. The flashbacks all-too conveniently match Eric's burgeoning friendship with Chris, and overall O'Rowe's script could stand a bit more subtlety; as written, Eric/Jack is bit too Christ-like in his purity and childlike in his innocence. That the film works as well as it does is entirely down to a career-making turn by Garfield, who first appeared to little notice in Robert Redford's LIONS FOR LAMBS (2007). There's a raw intensity to his performance that makes it all entirely believable, and elevates what could have been a rather heavy-handed plea for tolerance and understanding when it comes to youthful offenders into a drama of unexpected depth and tragedy. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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