Drama1991-2000AustraliaCrimeRowan Woods

Rowan Woods – The Boys (1998)

The Guardian wrote:

Rewatching director Rowan Woods’ chilling suburban drama The Boys (1998) feels like spending time with creepy acquaintances you hoped to never meet again. The story is based on a horrific crime, but there is something disturbingly mundane and commonplace about the way the film unfolds – the sense similar events may be taking place as we watch, in suburbs we frequent and neighbourhoods in which we live.

Adapted from a play by Gordon Graham, believed to be loosely based on the shocking 1986 death of the Sydney-based nurse and beauty pageant winner Anita Cobby, Woods’ debut feature is a deceptively complex work that takes place in unassuming settings and ends with a deeply unsettling message: that evil is ubiquitous and can happen anytime, anywhere, to anybody, without a skerrick of reason or purpose.

Set in working-class suburbs of Sydney, much of the drama in The Boys takes place over the course of one day between members of a closely knit but brutally tempered family.

The story begins as Brett (David Wenham) is picked up from prison after serving a year for assaulting a bottle shop owner. He comes home brandishing a handmade coffee table for his mother, but any notion this is going to be a story about redemption or making amends is quickly extinguished. A few minutes with him and his similarly unpleasant brothers Steve (Anthony Hayes) and Glenn (John Polson), makes it clear who – and what sort of film – we’re dealing with.

If a spell in the hot house was meant to have changed Brett for the better, such lofty aims remain unfulfilled. His mission seems to be to claw back his status as the alpha male. He berates his family, chest-thumps about how it’s “us or them” and embarks on conversational spars with his brothers while they drink and take drugs. We know a foul and unspeakable crime is about to take place owing to a flash-forward device: we see the aftermath of it but never the crime itself. At the heart of the film is a mysterious, impenetrable vacuum.

The Boys was powered by a cast and crew of rising Australian talent. It marked the first feature produced by Robert Connolly, who made his debut film as a director (with The Bank) and went on to produce Romulus, My Father, These Final Hours and The Turning, and direct films such as Three Dollars, Balibo and Underground: The Julian Assange Story. For actors Anthony Hayes, Toni Collette and Tropfest founder John Polson, The Boys was an early entry on their CVs.

Then there is David Wenham, whose head-turning performance, powered by a refusal to make Brett two dimensionally evil, led to his cinematic breakthrough. We’ve all seen traces of his character in others: that man we saw at the bus stop, loitering in a car park or fumbling for change at the supermarket. Similar to Wenham’s performance in Gettin’ Square – or more recently, Ben Mendelsohn’s in Animal Kingdom and Gary Waddell’s in The King is Dead – there is the sense that Brett is part of the Australian fabric, a person we are all acquainted with.

Woods nails the scungy, low class, dole bludging, suburban vibe, but The Boys is more elusive than it looks. As David Wenham put it, the film “was never about the crime, but the events leading up to it. It was a search, on our part, for understanding.”

If The Boys reaches that understanding, it does so through the despairing sense that evil can be random and ubiquitous. The crime at the heart of this tale is completely unprovoked; the closest we have to a motivation is the gradual seething discontent apparent in the lives of the perpetrators. A motivation that informs the slow, eerily casual way with which this unnerving classic moves and resonates.

1.66GB | 1 h 25 min | 1024×554 | mkv


Subtitles:English, English SDH


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