Clive Owen has mostly had his name pasted above the titles of action- and spy-type movies of late, but he’s recently taken a step out of shooting range to make a film about grief and fatherhood.

Joe’s (Owen) second wife just died of cancer leaving the workaholic, often absentee father to raise his six year old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) alone. His first order of business is a road trip to reconnect with the boy, followed by a return to a nearly lawless household in which the policy is “Just say yes.” Things are going relatively well so Joe agrees to allow his teenage son Harry (George MacKay) from his first marriage to come for an extended visit. In the meantime, Joe forms a friendship with a single mother (Emma Booth) though the lines of their relationship are often blurred.

The story subject is very emotionally charged but the film fails to harness its potential power. It’s of course sad to watch a child mourn his mother, but that’s a given. The story unfolds rather flatly with the expected hills and valleys playing more like minor bumps in the road. Joe spends much of his time being bewildered though it is a chaos of his own making, which makes the solution to most of his problems seem simple – change his free range parenting style. However, the film is based on the true story of widower that lived this approach to fatherhood and was successful.

Owen seems at home in the skin of a playful father as he roundhouses with the boys and his grief is equally tangible though not as poignant. McAnulty is impressive for his age and apparent comprehension of how his character is dealing with his pain and the changes occurring around him. MacKay gives a breakout performance as the boy torn between wanting to make his father proud while being simultaneously angry at him for abandoning him years earlier.

The Boys are Back is a melodrama that treads lightly on the drama but is not without its moments and the children are particularly noteworthy.


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