Everyone deserves a second chance, or so the idealistic adage goes. Reality tends to not be so kind, even to the people who might deserve it. (Or to be even more jaded, the second chance goes to those who don't deserve it.) The irrepressible human tendency to rashly adjudicate others is on full display in Boy A. Although somewhat manipulative, Boy A is nonetheless sincere in its portrayal of a young man looking for redemption; redemption that he himself doesn't even think he deserves.
We meet Eric just as he is choosing his new name (Jack) and receiving a new pair of Nikes from his counselor Terry upon his eminent release from jail. As we watch Jack acclimate to society after a long absence—start a job, get an apartment, try drugs, have sex and learn what a panini sandwich is—we get the backstory on his troubled childhood, and the heinous crime he committed that put him behind bars. The film is careful to paint Jack (and his child persona Eric) as a naive lost soul, and shrewdly avoids visually showing the act that turned him into a monster in the eyes of the public. His painful childhood was further marred by falling in with someone whose childhood was even more painful.
Although the media is fully aware that the infamous 'Boy A' (the name given to Jack as a juvenile criminal) has been released, no one knows his true identity except for Terry and Jack himself. The nightly news reports on Boy A, and tabloids publish publish computer renderings of what Boy A would look like as a young adult, as Jack nervously looks without wanting to look. Despite the dark cloud that continues to exist about 'Boy A' , his assimilation is exemplary making his counselor glow with pride. Jack is anything but the individual that the odds would send up after his ordeal. He is the gentlest of creatures who seems to harbor no ill will against anyone, which makes the inevitable turn of events all that much more gut-wrenching. Jack's happiness is an evanescent reality.
Andrew Garfield deserves the credit for any emotion you feel toward Jack, and in my case, even though I knew I was being played, I was admittedly moved. Broaching adulthood with the guileless exuberance of a child, you can feel the guilt, torment and sadness bottled up behind Jack's boyish smile. As a result Jack has a human dynamism that few actors can pull off at any age, let alone 24. The fact that he can just as easily play a cocky American college kid (in Lions for Lambs as the student that Robert Redford feels is worth his time) as the fragile and unpredictable Jack shows a pretty convincing range. Garfield was born in the US but then moved to England at the age of four. Boy A is his only film as a lead, but he also has a part in this year's The Other Boleyn Girl and Terry Gilliam's upcoming The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (that was thrown into turmoil after Heath Ledger's untimely death, but nonetheless is scheduled for release next year.)
Showing the human behind the demons is a them that has certainly been done before, but not nearly as many times as simply reconfirming societies demons, and I appreciate Boy A on that account. John Crowey does a great job in directing a thoughtful and sensitive film that out does most films for its openness and candor. Boy A begs people to look beyond the headlines, falsely providing every ounce of hope possible only to succumb to the most cynical and honest outcome.