- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

“Boy A” is one of those ripped-from-the-headlines films that, depending on the execution, can end up a maudlin movie-of-the week or an incisive but moving commentary.

In the sensitive hands of director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe, the duo behind the underrated Irish comedy “Intermission,” “Boy A” lands firmly in the latter group.

This British film, based on the prizewinning novel by Jonathan Trigell, begins when its title character is released from jail. Known only as “Boy A” at his trial and now rechristened Jack Burridge, the 24-year-old (played by Andrew Garfield) has spent more than half his life behind bars. As a 10-year-old, he and another boy brutally murdered a female schoolmate. Seemingly rehabilitated after more than a decade in prison, he is given a new name and a new life.

As bright as Jack’s future looks - he does well at his warehouse job and quickly catches the eye of one of the office girls - it might not be enough to erase his past. Jack can’t stop thinking about the days leading up to the murder and its aftermath. Even more dangerous is that the public hasn’t forgotten the shocking case, either, and when the tabloids reveal that he has been released, a bounty is put on his head.

Jack, though, wants to come clean about his true identity - at least to the seemingly understanding girl (Katie Lyons) with whom he has fallen in love. Even proving himself a good guy, saving from a car wreck a young girl not unlike the one he helped kill, might not be enough to atone for his past sin.

Mr. Garfield, last seen in last year’s “Lions for Lambs,” plays Jack in a pitch-perfect performance as a guy whose needs are adult and childlike at once. He’s excited by the thought of finally going to bed with a girl but turns out to be more interested in her emotional approval.

Other touching scenes are provided by a father figure, his caseworker, Terry (Peter Mullan), who sees his work with Jack as a way to make up for his troubled relationship with his own son. Everything is handled with the utmost subtlety.

“Boy A” seems clearly inspired by real-life cases, such as the two 10-year-olds who murdered the English toddler James Bulger. The public was outraged when those killers were released as adults. Those behind “Boy A” invite us to ponder whether outrage might also have a statute of limitations.

★★★

TITLE: “Boy A”

RATING: R (Language, sexuality, some disturbing content and brief drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by John Crowley. Written by Mark O’Rowe based on the novel by Jonathan Trigell.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS