The past is a terrible secret that can’t be suppressed in Boy A. The means by which Intermission director John Crowley and writer Mark O’Rowe (working from Jonathan Trigell’s novel) dramatize one man’s efforts to conceal a skeleton in the closet, however, too often takes the form of convenient coincidences and tidy echoes. In England, a man is released from juvenile prison after an adolescence of incarceration with a new name, Jack (Andrew Garfield), a new flat and job at a delivery company, and the support of devoted guidance counselor Terry (Peter Mullan). Jack was confined years earlier for killing—along with a delinquent friend—a young girl, and as Crowley’s understated, evocative use of constricting doorways, hallways, and bridges indicate, he remains emotionally and psychologically imprisoned by this heinous crime. Upon reentering society, Jack finds himself a best mate in Chris (Shaun Evans) and a feisty girlfriend in Michelle (Katie Lyons), a hopeful turn of events that the crushingly grim tone makes clear will be fleeting. It is, but not before the filmmakers have indulged in flashbacks to Jack’s youth that tidily mirror the present-day action, an example of artificial structural neatness that extends to the calamitous tension that arises out of Terry’s dueling devotion to both surrogate son Jack and his own wayward biological boy. By shrouding first the what, and then the how and why, of Jack’s misdeed (which is never fully shown or explicated), the film dishonestly courts our empathy through sheer denial of key facts, a situation that eventually breeds inescapable suspicion regarding the sympathy granted Jack by the story. Garfield embodies his protagonist with a tremulousness that evokes guilt, shame, fear, and alienation from the culture into which he’s now been thrust, his reticent mannerisms bestowing Jack with a fragility that’s most endearing during intimate moments with Michelle. For all its sensitivity, thoughtful sobriety, and sound performances, though, Boy A finally permits itself an excessive number of contrived and/or clichéd gestures, so that the sneakers Jack receives from Terry upon entry into the world are “Nike Escapes,” his euphoria is expressed via ecstasy-fueled nightclub dancing, and— clunkiest of all—his climactic destination on a train is “the end of the line.”
Boy A @ the Tribeca Film Festival
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.