Boy A is both an interesting and brave film. Handled differently, it could have very easily gone a different way and become a shocking, mock-biopic, too close to real life to be taken seriously. Instead, we get a film that is well-thought out, underplays the drama and actually, somehow, makes you feel sorry for a character that many would write off from the beginning.
It’s also very brave because it mirrors true-events so closely. Most people in Britain, over the age of maybe 20, would know the story of James Bulger and the two young boys who murdered him. They went to prison and have been released since, to much outcry and protest from certain members of the public. It would be very easy to make Boy A the story of one of those boys, demonising him, playing on the idea of the victim’s families suffering rather than on how the criminal tries to adapt to a world he didn’t grow up in.
The film makes the better but certainly more risky choice of showing the criminal’s struggle. We are never really treated to the full story behind “Jack’s” crime and how involved he was, helping the audience distance themselves from it and make up their own mind, and this also offers the film a chance to show how difficult it would be for a young man to start a life in a society that is completely alien to him.
I had a sense of dread and nervousness whenever “Jack” was thrown into social situations he wasn’t sure how to cope with. I cringed when he tried talking to girls or didn’t get the obvious cultural references. Above all though, and this is the success of the film, I wanted him to be ok. I wanted “Jack” to succeed in a new life, regardless of what he’d done.
Part of that comes down to Andrew Garfield in an early role. He is really showing off his acting talents here and its clear to see why he became such a huge success. He plays bewildered, confused but determined, fantastically and gets the audience on-board with his earnest desire to make a fresh start.
His connection with Peter Mullan’s care-worker adds a new dimension and when things do, inevitably, begin to fall apart for “Jack,” you want Mullan’s Terry to help him out. He is “Jack’s” comfort blanket but also the audiences, wishing everything to be made better for “Jack.”
The film has an ending that can be interpreted in different ways. This works brilliantly in some cases but here I felt I wanted some more closure. I would have liked a final end to “Jack’s” story, to really see what happened to the character. I can understand why they ended in on such an ambiguous scene but when I got that invested in a character, I don’t want to also have the responsibility of ending his story.
It’s a small gripe against what is a fantastic, gripping and brave film. Many people will see the clear comparisons with real life events but to take the side of the criminal, the person most people in society would shudder to see rehabilitated, and make the audience connect with him, is the films overall triumph.
Overall, a fantastically acted, realistic and very well-directed film. The story will connect with anyone that was shocked by events in the not-so-recent past but to then want the equivalent criminal to succeed, especially because of the great performance from Andrew Garfield, demonstrates how good this film really is.
(1-3 – awful/avoid. 4-6 – average. 7-8 – good. 9-10 – fantastic.)