The Boys Are Back, Scott Hicks, 103 mins (12A)
Brothers, Jim Sheridan, 105 mins (15)

Boys don't cry – even if everything in their world is coming to an end

There should be plenty of sniffling in cinemas where The Boys Are Back is being shown, not least because of how little crying there is in the film.

Adapted from Simon Carr's memoir, it stars Clive Owen as Joe Warr, a British sports reporter who lives in a gorgeous Australian farmhouse with his gorgeous wife, Laura Fraser, and their young son. Within a few minutes of the opening credits, Fraser has died of cancer, but the film doesn't indulge in the expected wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Emotion seeps out in other ways – usually in Joe's terse disagreements with his mother-in-law – but there's no time for unbridled grieving, not when there's the business of being a widowed dad to get on with. Soon, every surface in the house is buried under dirty dishes and empty cereal packets, but this isn't the customary caricature, so beloved of supermarket adverts, of a hopeless dolt who doesn't know one end of the Hoover from another. Nor is it the cue for a love interest to take Joe in hand – although the script wrongfoots us by suggesting that that's where the story's going. Instead, the house is a pigsty because Joe likes it that way: he sees it as an all-male, laissez-faire "hog heaven" where you wear your clothes straight from the washing line and where the bathtub doubles as a diving pool. When Joe's elder son (the terrific George MacKay) from a previous marriage flies over from England to live with them, Joe describes the set-up as "Home Alone, except there are three of us".

In other hands, the portrayal of a motherless household would swing between wackiness and mawkishness, but Scott Hicks, the director, keeps the tone grounded and wry, and Alan Cubitt's screenplay imposes just enough of a structure on Carr's memoir while retaining its aching sense of loss, as well as its funniest punchlines. Apart from one variation on the old rom-com stand-by, the last-minute dash to the airport, it's all piercingly authentic.

Of course, some might argue that there's another aspect that's hard to swallow: not many sports reporters look like Clive Owen. But Owen is perfectly cast, his usual listless nonchalance being very much to the film's advantage. We can imagine what he must be feeling, after all, so the more he holds it in, the more heart-rending his performance. There's a startling early close-up of Joe ringing his teenage son in Britain to tell him about his wife's death. Owen is typically poker-faced for a minute, and then his features suddenly spasm into tears for five seconds before snapping back just as suddenly to that familiar mask of can't be-bothered toughness. A long, histrionic speech wouldn't be half as powerful.

By way of a contrast, the emotion is far more overt and far less affecting in Brothers, Jim Sheridan's American remake of Susanne Bier's Danish drama. The siblings of the title are Tobey Maguire, right, and Jake Gyllenhaal, a piece of it-had-to-happen casting: those bulging eyes could easily have been dredged from the same gene pool. But if the two men look similar, their lives are different in every possible way.

Maguire, is the high-school quarterback who joined the marines, married a cheerleader, Natalie Portman, and had two daughters. Gyllenhaal is the tearaway who has just served a prison term for bank robbery. The idea is that their respective roles shift when Maguire is reported missing presumed dead in Afghanistan. He's captured by the Taliban and dumped in a cave, where his iron nobility is worn away by torture and starvation. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal helps Portman to get back on her dainty feet, and becomes a solid citizen in the process.

It's all very well made and respectable, but never very involving, probably because Sheridan has taken Bier's rough-edged characters and sanded them down until everyone is either a paragon or a menace to society. Indeed, Portman is so unimpeachably virtuous that any potential will-they-won't-they tension vanishes. In the Danish film, the soldier's wife came to feel that her brother-in-law might just be a better husband for her, whereas Gyllenhaal's affair with Portman amounts to a single kiss.

When Maguire finally returns from Afghanistan, his breakdown is just as neat and tidy: a few minutes of pistol-waving lunacy are concluded by hugs, tears and declarations of love. Give me the good, honest messiness of The Boys Are Back any day.

Also Showing: 24/01/2010

Armoured (88 mins, 12A)

Matt Dillon, Jean Reno and Laurence Fishburne waste their time playing a nondescript gang of armoured car drivers who try to steal the millions of dollars they're supposed to be guarding. It's an idiotic heist-gone-wrong B-movie, and the conspirators' plan is pretty idiotic in itself.

Ninja Assassin (100 mins, 18)

Grisly yet cartoonish action movie featuring a super-powered martial artist (Rain, a Korean pop star) who fights back against the ninja clan that trained him, something he finds easier to do while topless and slathered in baby oil. It doesn't make a jot of sense, and the fountains of digitally enhanced blood don't make the fisticuffs any less forgettable.

Burlesque Undressed (88 mins, 15)

This cheap and not always cheerful documentary purports to be a history of burlesque, but it's really an extended plug for the shows staged by its producer, Immodesty Blaize. In some ways, though, it's off-putting. The sassy 1950s trailblazers who are interviewed have still got va-va-voom to spare, whereas today's glum bunch keep grousing about how difficult and painful their job is.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees The Princess and the Frog to discover if Disney can do again what it once did best: fairy tales and hand-drawn animation.

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention