Based on the 2004 novel by Jonathan Trigell (itself rooted in real news events), Boy A is the rare film to consider crime, punishment, and rehabilitation as a three-step process. We Americans usually stop at stage two, especially at the movies, but this British production insists on the whole moral cycle. A convicted felon when a maladjusted, bullied child, "Jack" (his protective new name) is released into Manchester under the close supervision of a state counselor (Peter Mullan, excellent). Now a decade older, Jack (Andrew Garfield) is more boy than man—a shy virgin with no idea how to meet women or make friends and unsophisticated about lying, which he must do to guard his identity. His progress forward, however, advances with our progress back to the crime, as director John Crowley expertly interpolates past and present. "I ain't that boy!" Jack insists. He's right, though he's wrong about the extent to which society will grant second chances. Garfield is a marvelous amalgam of eagerness and evasiveness; his character is only just discovering the world—including its goodness, and his—while unaware how treachery lies in the shadows. Scenes of his finding love with a coworker (warm, womanly Katie Lyons) are all the more tender for the inexperience he's afraid to confess.
Garfield has nowhere to hide.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., Aug. 8–Thurs., Aug. 14. Not rated. 106 minutes.