Joe (Clive Owen), a wise-cracking British sports journalist, lives a family life in regional South Australia. In the wake of his wife's tragic death, he finds himself in a sudden state of single parenthood with six-year-old Artie. With turbulent emotions swirling, and Joe's elder teenage son coming to stay, he's faced with raising two boys in a household devoid of feminine influence and an unabashed lack of rules. United by unspoken love and in search of a road forward, the three multi-generational boys - father and sons alike - must each find their own way to grow up.


Joe Warr (Clive Owen) is renowned sports writer for the Murdoch press in Australia, whose lifestyle is one of all care and no responsibility, especially when it comes to parenting duties. There’s no question that Joe loves his children... it's just that he doesn’t know them very well. This is especially true of Harry (George MacKay), the boy who remained in London when Joe left his first wife to follow equestrian Katy (Laura Fraser) to Australia, but it also extends to six-year-old Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). When Katy suddenly succumbs to an aggressive form of cancer, the fragile bond between father and son is exposed and Joe is unable to read the youngster’s moods, much less ease the grieving child's pain.

Joe attempts to strengthen their ties by spending more time with the boy, though he sees no need for discipline; he reasons that it would be cruel to make life harder for the poor, motherless tyke. Adopting the mantra 'Just Say Yes’, he and Artie make the world their playground, in beautifully shot sequences that involve dive-bombing in the bathtub, and speeding along a beach at sunset with a whooping Artie clutching the windshield wipers.

One parent’s unorthodox methods are another’s definition of child abuse and Joe comes under fire for his carefree ways – mostly from the women in his life: weary ex-wife Flick (Natasha Little), concerned mother-in-law Barbara (Julia Blake) and frustrated love interest Laura (Emma Booth, showing off her acting chops in an uncharacteristically mumsy role). In spite of their criticism - or perhaps because of it - Joe forges ahead on his boys’ own adventure.

When Harry ups sticks for a summer in Australia, his new life at 'Hog Heaven’ takes some getting used to – coming as he does, from the structured confines of an old boys’ boarding school. Though Harry bonds quickly with his half-brother, the teenager is nonetheless plagued by insecurities about where his branch sits on the family tree.

Scott Hicks is a dab hand at depicting men in times of crisis, and he touches the raw consequences of grief and separation with trademark elegance and wit. The Boys Are Back is definitely a return to form after several years in the wilderness of the Hollywood studio system. As a man facing up to his responsibilities, Clive Owen exhibits varying degrees of stoicism, grief, arrogance and humility and it’s a welcome departure from the smug heroics of his recent screen roles.

That said, like Joe’s own struggles with child-rearing, there are a few blips along the way, including the late Katy's occasional ghostly reappearance as a sounding board for Joe as he navigates his new life as a single parent. Filmmakers love to resurrect the dead as spiritual guardians of the healing process, but Katy’s supernatural visits to Hog Heaven sit at odds with the messy reality of frozen chooks in the bathtub and little Artie’s inside-out tracky daks.

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1 hour 44 min
In Cinemas 12 November 2009,
Thu, 04/15/2010 - 11