Delayed Reaction: ‘Boy A’

Boy A is a British film that came out in 2007, but one I just saw the other night. Its title refers to a court practice of hiding the identity of a child defendant – Boy/Girl A, Boy B, and so on. After all, there is always the chance that they will be released as an older teen or young adult – out back into the world after being deemed “rehabilitated,” and no longer a harm to society. (It should also be noted that, while it completely stands on its own, the movie’s plot seems to share some similarities with the horrific James Patrick Bulger case in Liverpool of ’93.)

Andrew Garfield plays our Boy A, and he is amazing. I mean, indescribably so, although this did not come as a surprise. It’s intriguing to me that an actor who has excelled at so many smaller, dramatic, and emotionally heavy roles will be the new Spiderman in the reboot series. (I’m sure he’ll do a great job, but it’s just a whole other world of showbiz.) I hope that no one forgets how heartbreaking and impressive he was in Never Let Me Go (his performance being the best part of the film) and The Social Network (for which he was robbed a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars), and Boy A, which he received a BAFTA for.

Garfield’s characters real name, as a child, is Eric Wilson. We first meet him during the opening scene of the film where he is about to be released from prison. His rehabilitation worker, Terry, asks him what his new name will be to embark on his new life. Already, we know one thing: Eric’s past life cannot be known; it’s a huge, dangerous secret. And then we come to know another thing, as Eric responds with grateful smiles and nervous laughter, “I can’t make up me mind!”: Boy A is innocent. Or, at the very least, no longer a harm to society, fully rehabilitated.

He chooses to be called Jack Burridge, and off he goes into the world of 9 to 5, new friendships, and a brand new romance (with much help from Terry all the way).

As Jack starts his new life and tries to neglect his old one, the audience does not. We are instead in a position where we see Jack’s new, stable life paralleled by his childhood and the crime he was imprisoned for. The reveal comes steadily but surely, the flashbacks eloquent and paced very carefully. We see Eric failing at school, his mother dying of cancer, his father wretched and verbally abusive, being bullied and beaten up by older kids, and then finally befriending Philip – a clear troublemaker with an unusually rough demeanor for a kid. Nonetheless, he likes Eric and he stands up for him. The crime that is committed is perceived to be carried out by the both of them, equally, but the flashback scene to the actual tragic incident doesn’t fill in all the blanks for us. We find out what happened, realize that Philip (as predicted) was the leader in the crime, but we do not find out which crime Eric is guilty of – assisting in the murder of a schoolgirl, or never stepping in to stop it.

The way the film unravels, it seems as though Garfield’s portrayal of the adult Eric (now, of course, Jack) is supposed to speak to his involvement in the crime. Jack is quiet, easily flattered, surprised by other people’s kindness and yet very kind himself, nervous but gentle, naive and literally sheltered, desperate to love and even more desperate to be loved. There is nothing about him that yells “murderer,” but there is definitely something that whispers “follower.” For an actor to go off of a child’s uncomplicated performance and come up with all of this, continuing the journey of this human being in such a complex way, is truly remarkable to watch.

Garfield may have us rooting for him, but the film is not as sympathetic. Though Jack starts out leading a very positive second life (in which he even saves a little girl from a car crash and becomes the town hero), the media gets word of his new identity and the whole country seems to be ravenous to snatch it away from him. The story shoots off from one about a rehabilitated child criminal to one of a young adult running from his past and from the public that wants him to pay. It’s a story about one’s privacy, and if one deserves it after being tried for a very serious crime before he could be considered a teen. It’s a story that makes us question if second chances in extreme cases like these are really possible, and if so, for how long?

No matter what the answers are, or if there even are any, this film – beautiful and delicate when it could have easily been exploitative and harsh – is worth the watch.

Why ‘The Social Network’ Should Win Best Screenplay Oscar, and Then Some

People have said a lot of things about The Social Network. That it’s sexist, that it’s not true to the real story, that it makes Mark Zuckerberg out to be someone he’s not, etc. But the one thing no one really can say is that it’s bad. It is widely accepted as a brilliant film directed by David Fincher, starting with a one-of-a-kind script by Aaron Sorkin that seems to remind us of the power a screenplay can and should have. Even the actors are in awe of it to this day, rarely ever going an interview without mentioning how great the script was to begin with.

“Dialogue” is the buzz word you hear most often when there’s talk of Sorkin’s screenplay. This praise followed shortly after we watched the film and witnessed these young actors rattling off witty conversations we all wished we could come up with in real life. (Especially the famous “9 pages of dialogue” opening scene.) Then they released the PDF of the screenplay online just before the Oscars (indeed, it’s up for “Best Adapted Screenplay”), and now all that’s left to do is sit back and marvel. Because it’s one thing to hear good dialogue; it’s another to get straight-up schooled by a master.

While reading, I was only at page 28 when I realized that it’s not Sorkin’s style alone that sets it apart as an amazing script. What struck me is that he doesn’t just write, he navigates – and flawlessly at that. It is loud and clear how the film needs to play out, how the actors need to deliver even a mere one or two words, when the camera is supposed to move, where exactly the editor is supposed to cut, but in an advanced kind of way that is more precise and frantic than most writers could envision – however, it remains a smooth ride throughout nonetheless.

Sorkin may sound self-deprecating in interviews, but the writing knows better: Within its pages, Sorkin is like an assured, knowledgeable tour guide who can talk while walking backwards without tripping once. Not even once.

If the whole Social Network package is a well-oiled machine, then the script is the machine, with everything else happening to fall into place as “the oil,” helping it work as it was meant to work. In the end, everything was delivered the way it was intended. There’s no second-guessing or doubts between the pages, and it’s as effortlessly captivating of a read as it is onscreen. Sorkin’s writing voice is as confident as his main characters, and the result? The Social Network as a complete film struts in such a way that you can’t blame it. This should not only win the Academy Award this year, it should set the standard for the rest of the film industry.

As for the best part? This did it for me: