When a stage play is brought to the screen, directors are often tempted to make it more cinematic by expanding the action and cutting back on the constant dialogue, all in an effort to keep the floorboards from creaking. But The Boys, a promising debut from Australian director Rowan Woods, derives much of its power from its hemmed-in theatricality. Rather than "open up" Gordan Graham's play, Woods uses the camera to close in on his characters and intensify their feeling of confinement, limiting the settings to a dilapidated ranch-style home and a few trips to a prison cell. So effective are the film's style and performances that they validate the story's standard-issue working-class miserablism and generally banal take on the banality of evil. Set in a poor neighborhood in Sydney, where the one sign of the forthcoming Summer Olympics remains conspicuously out of focus, The Boys drops in on a dysfunctional family that's always on the verge of falling to pieces. Their precarious harmony is shattered when David Wenham returns from prison after serving a year for assaulting a liquor-store clerk. While he was gone, his miscreant brothers (John Polson and Anthony Hayes) both took steps toward domestication—one by marrying career-driven Jeanette Cronin, the other by knocking up sheepish live-in girlfriend Anna Lise—and his single mother (Lynette Curran) retook control of the household. But with little more than a glare, Wenham's singularly commanding presence is enough to snap the family back to his terms. The Boys doesn't follow a dramatic arc so much as a vicious circle, with certain violence bubbling up from beer-swilling sloth and back again. The effect is edgy and unnerving, even when the film's existential angst is laid on a little thick. (At one point, Wenham actually says to his brothers, "We're gods. These are the worlds that we've made.") Still, for the most part, Woods and his actors offer a chilling portrayal of the insidious ties that bind.

Advertisement