Boy A

Robin Clifford 
Boy A
Laura Clifford 
Years ago, adolescent Eric Wilson (Alfie Owen) was convicted, with his pal Philip (Taylor Doherty), of the brutal and senseless murder of a 10-year old schoolgirl (Madeleine Rakic-Platt). Now grown up and renamed Jack Burridge (Andrew Garfield), he rejoins society and, with the help of social worker Terry (Peter Mullan), hopes to become a new person and get rid of, once and for all, his troubled old identity as Boy A.”


John Crowley, who directed the fast-paced, Dublin-based 2003 ensemble tale of greed, love and violence, “Intermission,” shifts gears adapting Jonathan Trigell’s novel (scribed by Mark O’Rowe) about a youngster who is led down a tragic path by his young sociopath friend Philip. A young girl is the victim and the scandal reaches national proportions. But, British law only allows Eric to be referred to as Boy A to conceal the child’s identity from the prying press and he has lived a reclusive, protected life.

Released from incarceration many years after the heinous deed, Jack gets a job as a delivery guy, makes friends with his partner, Chris (Shaun Evans), and is attracted to the company secretary, Michelle (Katie Lyons), known affectionately by the male workers as the White Whale. He begins to build a new life previously denied and appears to be on the right track to finding a safe existence.

Then, something happens that will profoundly change his hoped for rebirth ­ an act of heroism that will thrust his face, once again, into the media world. The speculations about Eric’s return to society ­ replete with computer generated suppositions as to what Eric now looks like ­ and Jack’s new-found fame are on a collision course with his past that will shatter his life.

Andrew Garfield uses face-hiding gestures to good effect as Jack unsuccessfully tries to avoid the celebrity of his fleeting, spontaneous act of heroism. This is a tragic story of rebirth and hope dashed by a simple act of humanity. Garfield gives a touching performance as a young man struggling with his awful past. In one scene, he protects Chris from several drunken thugs in the same violent way that Philip did for him years before. This is very effective juxtaposition of past and present and brings Jack’s rehabilitation” into question.

Helmer Crowley structures “Boy A” with present day and flashback, both linearly told, as we learn just what happened, years before, to put Jack in his current dilemma. The film is well balanced in its storytelling and fills in all the details of the crime and its aftermath years later. The techs are straightforward and fit the tone and mood of this tragic tale. I give it a B+.

Terry (Peter Mullan, "Session 9," "Children of Men"), a social worker, gifts an appreciative young man with a pair of trainers and asks him to create a name for his new life.  After some hesitation, the boy who was Eric Wilson (Alfie Owen) decides he will now be Jack Burridge (Andrew Garfield, "Lions for Lambs," "The Other Boleyn Girl").  In the intervening years as a child convicted of murder he has been known as "Boy A."

Perhaps inspired by the horrific 1993 case where two ten-year-old boys abducted a toddler, beat him to death and placed his body on train tracks, "Boy A," which was adapted from the Jonathan Trigell novel by Mark O'Rowe ("Intermission"), is one of the most compelling examinations of prison reform since "A Clockwork Orange."  But unlike that film, this is no sci-fi cult item, but instead a deeply humanistic, bordering on ultra-liberal, look at one young man who appears to be a star example of the system working correctly and the forces wishing to subvert that success.

Jack Burridge is shy to a fault and thoroughly appealing.  He's given a warehouse job and paired with Chris (Shaun Evans, "Being Julia"), who not only shows him the ropes on the job but takes him to the pub and nudges him towards workmate Michelle (Katie Lyons).  Terry is in constant touch, worrying but confident that Jack is a fine young man.  He's proven right when Jack is instrumental in saving the life of a young girl at an accident scene.  Jack's tentative and touching romance with the much more experienced Michelle becomes serious.

But the media is all over the story of Eric Wilson, the surviving member of a pair of killers who they know was recently released (the timeline would also suggest the 1993 Liverpool case) and Jack is haunted by headlines with pictures of his younger self alongside drawings interpreting his current appearance.  He's also disturbed by the prison hanging death of Philip Craig (Taylor Doherty) whom Terry insists committed suicide.  Jack continues to have nightmares and flashbacks reveal how his friendship with the tough, abused, streetwise Philip evolved and how it led to murder.  Meanwhile, Terry's estranged son, Zeb (James Young), who shows up on his door right around the time of Jack's release, is intensely curious about his father's secret case.  If Jack was Boy A, Zeb would seem to have been Boy B, abandoned when his father's immersion in Eric's case caused a family rift.

Emphasizing the fact that little in life is really black or white, director of photography Rob Hardy has shot "Boy A" in shades of gray.  Director John Crowley ("Intermission") achieves the sense of Jack being floated out into society with the watery colors and Terry's guiding hand.  If at first Garfield's performance seems too naive and sweet, we eventually do see him as that person, despite not having the benefit of observing his prison years. Mullan makes Terry's commitment an obsession, true love for the boy mixed with a Godlike sense of creation.  Support from both Lyons and Evans is strong, helping bring the audience into its acceptance of Jack.  Young Alfie Owen is good as the boy with nothing to cling onto but Taylor Doherty is outstanding in the showier role of Philip.  If Crowley makes a misstep, it is that both of these boys are given psychological symptoms to explain their actions - there is little sympathizing with their victim, a young girl who makes the mistake of standing up to Philip.  We do not witness her murder, nor Eric's actual role in it, although an earlier scene which foreshadows it, when Philip kills an eel for sport, depicts Eric as a non-participant.

"Boy A" is a sad story that supports the idea of child killers as often victims themselves, the far less passionately defended point of view.  For that reason alone and despite its liberal leaning, Crowley and team should be commended for putting it out there with such art and craft.


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