Clive Owen uses every drop in his considerable reservoir of charm to infuse his shallow young widower with warmth and dimension, and comes up a tiny bit short. That he still comes off as an entitled prep school twat getting by on looks and brawny ego is both a testament to the script's strengths, and its irritating flaws. And Owen is the best reason to see this fascinating, handsomely shot and occasionally gauzy adaptation of Simon Carr's memoir.
Owen plays Joe Warr, a hotshot British sportswriter who leaves his family and heads down under with a lovely Australian equestrian Katie (Laura Fraser), who promptly develops terminal cancer. Now Joe's saddled with raising their 7-year-old Archie, while struggling to regain the trust of Harry, the teen son he abandoned. His parenting style's a self-described "hog heaven," where the boys run wild like feral dogs … to a point.
If his house is in shambles, it's nothing compared to the mess of broken promises and shattered relationships Joe has left in his wake. The film is about him slowly rebuilding trust.
Director Scott Hicks (Shine) pulls at the heartstrings like he's trying to start an outboard motor, but he's got the grace to carry off the quiet moments. It feels immediate and real, if not a bit soapy. (It might help if the women weren't either hectoring shrews or sainted martyrs, or if his wife's annoying ghost didn't pop by for chats.)
The film's gorgeous to look at; everything smothered in sunbeams and bucolic, rolling fields of golden grass. Hicks' film mirrors Joe's home life — messy, complicated and untidy, but also warm and cozy once you settle in.
At the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.