It's been 30 years since Kramer vs. Kramer took movie audiences by surprise with its tale of a workaholic dad forced to reorder his priorities to focus on being a caregiver (back before anyone had heard the term "caregiver").
That film was a change of pace for Dustin Hoffman, softening an edgy image and earning him his first Oscar. Now here comes Clive Owen in Scott Hicks' The Boys Are Back, a reworking of similar themes in a way that is just as telling and just as affecting.
Indeed, Owen hasn't played this kind of role before, at least not since he first popped up on American radar in Bent and Croupier a dozen years ago. While he's shown versatility in a variety of roles, he's never played a character dealing with problems as normal as the ones confronting Joe Warr, the sportswriter at the center of this film, which is based on a true story.
Joe has been a hit-and-run dad, always on the go, popping in home between major sporting events that require his presence. You quickly get the impression that this was his pattern in his first marriage as well; he left England and a young son behind to run off to Australia and a second marriage, to Katy (Laura Fraser), who apparently is more forgiving of his peripatetic schedule.
But Joe's life is upended when Katy dies, leaving him with 7-year-old Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). He's dealing with his own grief as well as the grief of his young son - and is forced to be a full-time dad for the first time ever. His load is doubled when Harry (George MacKay), his teen-age son from his first marriage, hops a plane from England and shows up in Australia with only the barest of warnings.
So Joe must go from hands-free to hands-on and discovers just what a juggling act parenthood is.
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