After grabbing attention and evincing promise with the boisterous black comedy “Intermission,” his 2003 debut feature, Irish-born helmer John Crowley follows up with the grim grittiness of “Boy A,” a downbeat drama in which worst expectations are inexorably fulfilled, and bleak lives are brightened only sporadically with vain hope. Pic inspires respect for its first-rate performances, artful construction and meticulous understatement. But subject matter will present daunting marketing challenges for the Weinstein Co., which picked up “Boy” at the Toronto Film Festival. Thick accents of some thesps won’t help.
Teamed again with “Intermission” scripter Mark O’Rowe, who adapted Jonathan Trigell’s novel, Crowley focuses on a sensitive twentysomething (Andrew Garfield) who anxiously re-enters the outside world after spending most of his young life in prison for his role in the brutal murder of another youngster. (Pic provides back story through flashbacks, but refrains from dramatizing the slaying until late in the narrative.)
Under the watchful guidance of his dedicated caseworker (Peter Mullan), the parolee assumes the name Jack Burridge, and tries to re-settle inconspicuously in working-class Manchester.
At first, Jack succeeds beyond his wildest hopes, landing a job with a delivery company and striking up a few workplace friendships. Better still, he’s drawn close to Michelle (Katie Lyons), a lusty young woman who lures Jack out of his shell. Their warmly romantic and casually carnal relationship is the most compelling element in “Boy A.” But Jack’s happily-ever-aftering is cut short when, ironically, an impulsive act of heroism leads to his exposure.
Garfield makes a sympathetic impression, especially as Jack struggles to express his feelings for Michelle. Lyons is unaffectedly engaging in her matter-of-fact sensuality, and the ever-reliable Mullan is at the top of his game as a social worker who may be too devoted to his work.
Ron Hardy’s moodily evocative HD lensing enhances the pic’s sense of life as a purgatory where redemption is possible, but unlikely.