By Willie Krischke — December 2, 2008.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven… Luke 6:37
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years discussing this proverb of Jesus’ with lots of different people. What does it mean, exactly, to judge? Does it mean to have an opinion or perspective about the morality of another person’s actions? Surely not; there’s really no way to live in this world without some communal sense of right and wrong. I think instead it means that we must never label a person – either good or bad or any other label – but always be open to the possibility of change in them. There are monstrous acts and heroic acts, but neither monsters or heroes. Not in real life, anyway.
“Boy A” is the story of Jack (Andrew Garfield,) who participated in the brutal murder of a little girl when he was about twelve and put in prison until he is 24. Those are pretty formative years to be behind bars, and Garfield plays him as a character mostly unformed. He is eager to experience anything he can, but terribly timid, shy, and afraid of giving away his secret. That’s right – he has been given a new name upon release, and is trying to live in relative anonymity, in spite of the tabloids. He is aided by his uncle Terry (Peter Mullan) who instructs him never, under any circumstances, to reveal his secret. You’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s good advice.
Jack takes a job as a delivery boy in Manchester, and begins to rebuild his life. He is shy and awkward but polite and attentive, which makes him easy to like. Director John Crowley bends over backwards to show us that Jack is a good kid, even throwing in a heroic rescue to tip the scale. Yet Garfield consistently underplays the character, and “Boy A’s” best moments are its quiet ones. He builds a friendship with another fellow at work, Chris (Shaun Evans,) and it is cemented one night when Jack defends him in a club, viciously beating up his attacker. This sudden violence is startling from such a quiet and respectful boy, but we soon learn that it is almost an exact mirror of a scene from Jack’s own childhood. And we begin to get a sense of why he’s been in prison all these years.
The interspersed scenes that flash back to his childhood reminded me of the great French film, “The 400 Blows.” A troubled home life, no friends at school, a frequent target for bullies– it all adds up to a pretty lonely, desperate young boy. Then he is befriended by Philip (Taylor Doherty,) who has murder in his eyes. Before long, you learn why, and it’s a pretty good reason. Jack (whose name was Eric when he was nine) might want to stay away from this kid, but doesn’t exactly get to choose his friends. When they are on trial for the murder of a classmate, the barrister paints them as the very incarnation of evil, but we see them and angry, hurt, lonely little boys who are tired of being picked on. Philip dies in prison, in a questionable suicide, and one of Jack’s first actions when he emerges from prison is to visit his grave.
Jack begins a relationship with the office secretary – or rather, she begins it with him – and this yields some of “Boy A’s” finest, most tender moments. Jack clearly never thought his life could ever be this good. And he’s right, and we know it; it’s not going to last. His cover is blown in the end, ironically the work of another boy, jealous, angry, to attain the love of his father. Everything falls apart for Jack, because as a society, we’d rather condemn evil incarnate than allow a troubled young boy another chance. “Judge not,” Jesus says to us. It’s harder than it seems.
- If you’ve ever done something you still regret and would rather others not know about.
- If you enjoy quiet performances, working class surroundings, and Irish accents.
- For the chance to reflect on sin, forgiveness, and judgement.
- If you’re in the “once a criminal always a criminal” camp.
- If you don’t have the time or patience for a movie that won’t reach out and grab you.
- If you hate ambiguous endings.