3 Stars — Troubling

When men don’t grow into responsible adults, their ability to raise boys is diminished. Rather than providing the next generation with models of mature behavior, these men lack the wisdom and experience to prepare their sons for life. This lack is accentuated when divorce or death disrupts the home and the father becomes like one of the boys in avoiding the pain of grief with childish actions. This truth is dramatically presented in Scott Hicks’ The Boys Are Back.

Set in Australia and England, the film is based on a novel by Simon Carr and adapted for the screen by Allan Cubitt. Inspired by a true story, the central character is Joe Warr (Clive Owen), a likable but self-absorbed British sports writer whose style of reporting appeals to the boyish interests of his readers that reflect his own. His self-absorption is most notably indicated by his choices after interviewing a beautiful young equestrian from Australia, resulting in her pregnancy.

Divorcing his wife and leaving his young son, Harry (George MacKay), in England, Warr marries Katy (Laura Fraser) and moves with her to Australia, where they have a son they name Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). This decision proves to be painful in both the short and long haul of his life as Katy dies from cancer when Artie is 6 years old.

Having never taken responsibility for Artie, and having left Harry behind years earlier, Warr is confronted with the full responsibility for both boys when Harry comes to live with him. Their home is now filled only with boys. It is then that the film explores the pain of both divorce and death. What makes the story different is that Warr doesn’t have the resources to care for his sons in their mutual hours of need.

Choosing to “just say yes” to every request his sons make and requiring no responsibility from them for the care of their home, their lives become unsafe. This is seen most obviously when Warr leaves them alone at home with Harry, a young teen, in charge while he travels hundreds of miles away to cover a sporting event. It is a disaster in the making and proves to become one that drives Harry away because he doesn’t feel safe.

Although we often expect that age will bring maturity, we painfully know this is not true. The choices that Warr made throughout his life come home to haunt him and his sons in ways he is unprepared to handle. Having rejected the educational preparation of his English schooling and having isolated himself from any commitment to a community such as a church, Warr even rejects the wisdom of a young mom from Artie’s school, Laura (Emma Booth), and his mother-in-law, Barbara (Julia Blake).

His decision to reject parenting wisdom from others, even from the grandparent, causes Warr’s parenting to be ill-founded and leaves us all with a sense of concern for the boys living in his home. It makes us wonder what kind of father was in Warr’s childhood home — if there was one.

The playfulness of joining children in their games is a gift men can give to their children. But when boyish play is not balanced by mature responsibility and wisdom, the boys raised in their homes often don’t find their way into their own maturity. That is a message authentically presented in the film.


» Warr’s decision to divorce his wife and leave his young son leaves a profound scar on Harry. Do you think it’s possible for a child not to be harmed by divorce? Why?

» The attitude that Warr’s mother-in-law, Barbara, expresses is one of judgmental inflexibility. How different do you think this story would have been if she had given her love and support?

» Do you believe that parents say no far too often? What are the times when it’s necessary for a parent to say no?

» Do you agree with Katy’s comment that Warr enjoys worrying mothers, as shown by the zip-line treehouse he built for Artie? Why do you think he built it?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.