Everyone got into trouble when they were children. Most of the offenses were trivial: breaking a vase, running with scissors, pouring milk on the dog's head. But what of the children who do truly reprehensible things? Things that adults go to prison for. When Jack Burridge (Andrew Garfield) was a little boy, he and his friend Philip killed a fellow student. Sent to trial being known to the public as "Boy A", Jack was convicted and spent the rest of his youth and all of his teenage years in jail. But at age 24, Jack is being released (at the chagrin of all of London), and ready to start life anew. With the help of fatherly social worker Terry (Peter Mullan), Jack finds a place to live and a job delivering packages. He even stirs up a romance with curvy co-worker Michelle (Katie Lyons) which leads to his first sexual experience. All seems to be going well for Jack until an act of kindness brings him under the spotlight, and threatens to reveal his identity.
There is an obvious moral question posed in Boy A. Are children who do evil things inherently evil? Do they remain in the same state throughout their lives, or can their indiscretion be chalked up to naivety? As we watch Jack on a personal level, we see that he is a being fully capable of kindness and sensitivity. We see him stand up for a friend and fall into love like a newborn pup with Michelle, and we cannot help but like him. We also get a look into his past as a neglected child who is frequently bullied at school. He is clearly determined to prove that he is a changed person. He changed his name from Eric to Jack upon leaving jail so that he can literally become a new man. But not all of London can see Jack on the level that we are. They just know about what he did in the past, and for them, that's all they need to know. Unfortunately, we can't see how Jack's friend Philip fairs outside of jail, because he committed suicide.
The titular Boy A is played brilliantly by Andrew Garfield. You may recognize him from the 2010 masterpiece The Social Network and photos as the new Spider-man in the upcoming franchise reboot. Boy A was Garfield's first ever leading film role, and it is nothing short of astonishing. As a man forced to leap from child to adult without that learning stage in between, Garfield plays the role with just enough boyish charm to really seem like somebody who never grew up properly. He is helped by a strong supporting cast, specifically Peter Mullan as Jack's social worker. Every scene between the two characters is exceptionally engaging, as you really feel a strong connection between these two actors.
Boy A is not always an easy film to watch, but it is definitely a rewarding experience. Because of the intriguing dilemma brought up in Mark O'Rowe's screenplay, this film is sure to stir up some debate amongst intellectual circles. At 106 minutes, Boy A leaves at a good moment where we don't even begin to lose interest in Jack's struggles. You will be invested in this film all the way up to the emotional finale. My rating (8/10)