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Heroes of the Zeroes: Boy A

by on February 13, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

“Boy A”
Rated R

Andrew Garfield received an assignment many actors would avoid or, worse, botch in 2007’s “Boy A” — embody a grown, traumatized man experiencing emotional honesty, transparent kindness, sexual intimacy and genuine appreciation from others for the first time.

Yet Garfield brought compelling gravity to Jack Burridge — the name given to a man who, as a child, committed a fictitious vicious crime and had been secretly released. Like an awkwardly clingy societal newborn, Jack acted, in equal measure, overwhelmed, overzealous, overjoyed and overcome.

Such clear-eyed acting made “Boy A” all the more devastating as its narrative walls closed in on Jack, with similar kudos for Katie Lyons as Jack’s tender, patient girlfriend and Peter Mullan as a social worker who, for better and worse, came to see Jack as more of a son than his own flesh and blood.

Jack’s joyful jitters at inhabiting a young-adult life he’s never known — socially, romantically, occupationally — eventually shift into anxiety that his past will rip from him all he’s achieved, a worry expedited by media eager to dig up his dirt.

John Crowley’s film used Jack’s plight as a small-scale look at larger thematic debates with an appropriately open-ended resolution.

Where could, or should, punishment for a long-ago crime stop, and where can penitent rehabilitation take hold? Should silence be similarly perceived as a lie? Are Jack’s childhood actions truly evil or merely a matter of infamous lapses in judgment? And at what point might society offer compassion for an ex-convict taking steps to improve?