The Boys Review
Brett Sprague (David Wenham) returns home after a year in prison for assault with a deadly weapon. His girlfriend Michelle (Toni Collette) is not entirely pleased to see him. As the day goes on, Brett tries to reimpose his authority on his brothers, their girlfriends and mother Sandra (Lynette Curran)…
The Boys was adapted by Stephen Sewell from a stage play by Gordon Graham. (Lynette Curran was in the original cast and recreates her role here.) Using mostly with handheld cameras, director Rowan Woods gives the proceedings a pressure-cooker intensity that’s almost unbearable at times. The film is a study of the roots of violence: not just drink, but emotional repression and stuntedness, a regressive masculinity that can’t take account that the world has changed, a bullying machismo that isn’t welcome any more.
As the day unfolds we see a series of flashforwards, beginning eighteen hours later, when the brothers are arrested for a terrible crime. We don’t actually see the crime Brett and his brothers commit: that’s left mercifully to our imaginations. Suffice to say it’s nasty. The device of flashforwards isn’t a common one (leaving out basically unchronological films like 21 Grams, the best-known usage of them is probably in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?), and Woods distinguishes them from the rest of the film by keeping the camera locked down and tinting the picture blue. A score by The Necks, featuring a repetitive atonal piano line, is used very sparingly but effectively.
The acting is first-rate. David Wenham (the film’s associate producer) and Toni Collette, both cast markedly against type, are very good as the thuggish but still in some way charismatic Brett and his girlfriend, wanting to stand up for herself but afraid of what he is capable of. Lynette Curran began her career on television in the 1960s before becoming a feature of the newly revived film industry: (She has a small role in Alvin Purple.) She gives an excellent performance as a woman who loves her three sons, but is horrified by what has become of them. The rest of the cast are very good as well, though Anna Lise and Pete Smith are limited by noticeably underwritten roles.
The Boys premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in competition and went on to win four AFI Awards – for Woods’s direction and Sewell’s screenplay, with Supporting Acting nods to John Polson and Toni Collette. It was nominated for nine others, losing to The Interview. It had a British cinema and VHS release (with an 18 certificate that must be due more to tone than anything – while this is certainly not a film for children, onscreen violence and language is kept within 15 levels) and has been shown on television. Hopefully, in the wake of Woods’s second feature, Little Fish, and the higher profile than Wenham and Collette have now, this fine debut film should receive more attention. Anyone who has seen the later film might note a passing reference to “Jockey Thompson”, Sam Neill’s character in Little Fish.
The Boys was released by Madman Entertainment as one of their “Filmmaker’s Editions”, on a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions. The DVD is transferred in the original ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. This isn’t a colourful film: it’s mostly naturalistically shot inside a deliberately drably decorated house. Given the lowish light levels in some scenes there’s a little grain, but nothing too untoward. The flashforward scenes are given a bluish tint, and some intentionally rough-looking video footage is used in a couple of scenes.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, which plays as surround with your amp set to analogue or prologic. This is mostly a dialogue piece anyway, with a minimal music score, so there’s not a lot of surround usage. They are used noticeably in exterior scenes with rainfall, an example of which can be heard straight after the opening credits. There are no subtitles. That seems to have been policy for discs produced by Madman and other companies who distribute via The AV Channel when this DVD was released in 2003, and that policy as far as I’m aware is unchanged. I wish they would, otherwise the deaf and hard-of-hearing lose out.
Madman have produced a quite substantial selection of extras. Rowan Woods provides a commentary track which is consistently interesting, though more so to people who like hearing about technical details. He describes his aesthetic strategies for the film, such as uses of lenses and a handheld camera, and colour schemes. He talks steadily and there are few pauses during this shortish film.
“Filmmakers Talking” (37:07) is a specially produced documentary which begins with the film’s origins as a stage play (which we see extracts from, in artefact-riddled video footage) through the film’s making and its reception at Berlin. Woods turns up again (recorded in a rather echoey environment), as well as playright Gordon Graham, screenwriter Stephen Sewell and producer Robert Connolly (himself a director, of The Bank as well as members of the cast.
Also included is Tran the Man (17:16), a confident short film by Woods (who also acts in it) and starring David Wenham as a small-time drug dealer in Sydney’s Vietnamese community. The film is particularly interesting as it was the seed from which Little Fish grew.
The theatrical trailer is in two parts (1:40 and 0:37), designed to be separated by at least two other trailers and often played at the beginning and end of a trailer sequence. There is a play-all option. The extras are completed by a self-navigating stills gallery for the play and one for the film, two audio samples from The Necks’s soundtrack, and “Arenafilm Propaganda”. The last-named are six trailers for films produced by Arenafilm and distributed by Madman: The Bank, The Monkey’s Mask, Vigil, All Men Are Liars, The Navigator and Sweetie.
The Boys is an excellent film that has tended to be overlooked of late. Madman’s DVD is a very good presentation of it.