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The Boys

Release date: May 07, 1998
Directed by: Rowan Woods
Written by: Stephen Sewell, Gordon Graham
Produced by: Robert Connolly, John Maynard
Running time: 86 minutes

On his return home after serving a twelve-month sentence in jail, Brett Sprague (David Wenham) discovers things have changed at home and his insecurities build. His girlfriend, Michelle (Toni Collette) resents the way Brett has changed. His brothers Glenn (John Polson) and Stevie (Anthony Hayes) are restless and boozing. Chaos reigns in the Sprague home as their mother, Sandra (Lynette Curran), makes a stand against her sons behaviour and orders them out of the house. The Sprague boys are united in a futile rage. Brett leads his brothers off into the night.

Cast & Characters

David Wenham (Brett Sprague), Toni Collette (Michelle), Lynette Curran (Sandra), John Polson (Glenn Sprague), Anthony Hayes (Stevie Sprague), Jeanette Cronin (Jackie), Anna Lise Phillips (Nola), Pete Smith (George), Sal Sharah (Nick), Lawrence Woodward (Jailer), Peter Hehir (Graham Newman), Andrew Heys (Sparrow), Teo Gebert (Policeman), Anthony Kierann (Policeman), Stephen Leeder (Commissioner), Veronica Neave (Girl)

Production Notes

“The Boys” offers perhaps the most chilling depiction in Australian film of the violence within a family, and where it may eventually lead. It’s based on a play by Gordon Graham that premiered in Sydney in 1991, amid considerable controversy. Graham has said he was writing about characters he knew from his own upbringing in Perth, but that the initial inspiration came from the gang rape and murder of Anita Cobby, near Blacktown, in February 1986. Five men were convicted of that crime in 1987 – three of whom were brothers. The play was adapted for the screen by Stephen Sewell, and it ends with the three brothers about to abduct a young woman off the street. The film has two distinct time strands, which some viewers found confusing. Most of the action in the house takes place over the 18 hours after Brett Sprague is released from prison. These scenes are intercut with short scenes from the future – from just after the crime, when Brett is seen burning his clothes in the backyard, to the day when all three are about to be sentenced in court. This script strategy shifts the drama away from contemplation of the crime itself, to the question of how the three young men could become ready to commit such a crime. In a real sense, it takes the story back into the home, where the dynamics of family dysfunction allow the story to become more universal.

Rowan Woods’ feature film debut world-premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 1998 and released theaters in Australia and overseas to critical acclaim. Paul Fischer wrote, “it’s been a long time since an Australian film has emerged with as much power and energy as this remarkable work by director Rowan Woods.” Variety wrote that “Toni Collette gives her best screen performance to date as Michelle, a hardboiled young woman whose confidence erodes as the day proceeds”. In 1998, “The Boys” received a whopping 13 AFI Award nominations including Best Film, winning four gongs for Best Director (Rowan Woods), Best Supporting Actor (John Polson), Best Supporting Actress (Toni Collette) and Best Screenplay (Stephen Sewell). It also won four awards at the Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards, including Best Director and Best Film.

Reviews

Variety, David Stratton, February 22, 1998: Wenham, who played Brett onstage, is chilling in the role. The actor gets right under the skin of his alarming character. Curran, the other holdover from the stage, repeats her role as the tragic mother unable to control her sons. Collette gives her best screen performance to date as Michelle, a hard-boiled young woman whose confidence erodes as the day proceeds.

The New York Times, Anita Gates, October 15, 1999: Stephen Sewell, who wrote the screenplay (based on the stage play “The Boys” by Gordon Graham), and Rowan Woods, the director, have created a believable world down to the last emotional detail. That is the film’s strength. Maybe its weakness, a lack of energy that mirrors the characters’ own, was intentional.

Time Out London, NF, 1998: Woods’ brilliantly controlled feature debut is a fierce study of male violence, family loyalty and domestic imprisonment. Yet despite a Ken Loach-style attention to social context and non-judgmental observation, his dissection of the twisted psycho dynamics of an imploding ‘white trash’ family pushes beyond naturalism into a realm of forced hyper-realism.

The Guardian, Luke Buckmaster, March 20, 2017: Adapted from a play by Gordon Graham, believed to be loosely based on the shocking 1986 death of the Sydney-based nurse and beauty pageant winner Anita Cobby, Woods’ debut feature is a deceptively complex work that takes place in unassuming settings and ends with a deeply unsettling message: that evil is ubiquitous and can happen anytime, anywhere, to anybody, without a skerrick of reason or purpose.

Awards & Nominations

  AFI Award – Best Supporting Actress
☆   Film Critics Circle of Australia – Best Supporting Actress