I recently saw Red Riding: 1974, which was the first time I had really seen star Andrew Garfield, aside from a supporting role in Terry Gilliam’s quickly forgotten Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. I didn’t have positive things to say about the actor. “I’m not convinced by Garfield’s acting potential,” I asserted. “He doesn’t strike me as a particularly noteworthy presence on-screen.”
Since then, I have had the pleasure of seeing Garfield in The Social Network, where he plays a conservative and business-minded founder of Facebook, and now here – where he plays a man who is uneducated due to being incarcerated most of his childhood for a despicable crime he seems to gentle to have committed. Or is he reformed? In any case, these two recent roles are so diametrically opposed to one another and yet the actor played each of them perfectly. I take back what I said before. I am now quite convinced with Garfield’s acting potential.
Now, as for the movie. It’s slow, but not uneventful. It takes its time to get to where it’s heading, but it does so with great purpose. If you’ve seen the trailer, then it’s clear to you that Jack (Garfield), referred to as ‘Boy A’ during his legal proceedings, will have his true identity found out and be hounded by the paparazzi and those who would rather see him incarcerated for life. I don’t think that I’m spoiling anything by saying that, yes, that is something that eventually must happen.
What makes the movie so strong, though, is what comes before that. Jack is constantly afraid that he is going to be found out, so any time something semi-illegal is brought to the forefront of his consciousness – e.g., the idea to trespass through somebody’s property to cut time off of a business trip – he becomes visibly nervous. He is trying to start a new life, but that is difficult to do because of this perpetual dread. In addition to that, he retains his childhood naivete… and did I mention the horrible, horrible nightmares?
That’s one thing. The other thing is what he finds in Michelle, a co-worker. She is brash and exuberant, he is shy and quiet. She practically begs him to ask her out for a drink, but once they do meet up they seem to click almost immediately. Their relationship is built slowly and surely; they have really intimate moments together. I am always taken with movies that refuse to let their characters’ central romantic relationship be defined by telephone-montages and assumed compatibility. This film builds slowly because it is not content with any false characterizations. It wants you to feel for Jack, the protagonist, but more than that, it wants you to feel that his experiences and relationships are true to life. It’s not just his relationship with Michelle which fuels this sweetness. He becomes good friends with some of his male co-workers, and there is one particularly touching moment where he and his friend Chris (Shaun Evans) talk about the fragility of life while drinking in the pale morning sunlight. It’s beautiful.
There are many more positive things I could say about the film. Of course Peter Mullan is fantastic. He and Garfield work well together and Jack’s giddy smiles when he is around the older man are some of the most touching parts of the film. The catalyst to the final act is a little bit hokey, I suppose you could say, and I’m a little bit disappointed by the how sudden the ending came. But otherwise,
Otherwise, Boy A is a really great movie. I really liked it a lot.