Thursday, October 1, 2009

Two art-house offerings miss the mark


Clive Owen at loose ends in The Boys Are Back.
I'm told that Simon Carr's The Boys Are Back is an honest and affecting memoir about a father's attempt to come to grip with life after his wife died of cancer. Whatever it is on the page, the movie version -- directed by Scott Hicks (Shine) -- is hamstrung by predictability and padding. Still, some positives can be found: It's interesting, for example, to see Owen shed his brooding skin to play Joe Warr, a sportswriter who lives in the Australian outback where he cares for two sons. Young Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) fills the movie's heart quotient. George MacKay portrays Harry, a teen-age son from Joe's previous marriage. Harry travels from England to spend time with his dad. In one of the movie's least persuasive conceits, Joe's late wife appears to him, offering advice on child rearing. I credit the movie for trying to grapple with the crazy-quilt aspects of life in which families from different marriages try to blend, but the movie turns out to be more conventional and less convincing than one might have hoped.


When I heard that The Burning Plain was written and directed by Guillermo Arriaga, I was eager to see it. Arriaga, you'll probably recall, wrote the screenplays for movies such as The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Babel, 21 Grams and Amores perros. That's one hell of a resume, but movies aren't the sum of past credits, and Arriaga's directorial debut turns into a major disappointment. The presence of name actors such as Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger doesn't help, and, in typical Arriaga fashion, the story leaps around in time. Basically the drama stems from the consequences of an affair between a married woman (Basinger) and her Mexcican-American lover (Joaquim de Almeida). In trying for intense drama, Arriaga lights many fuses, but sets off few real emotional explosions.

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