|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Rod Hardy, 2007, Australia/UK/US, 105mins
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Teresa Palmer, Lee Cormie, Christian Byers, James Fraser
It's probably fair to say that most people who see December Boys won't be going out of any desire for a story about teenage orphans, or for the endless shots of the Australian landscape (as spectacular as it is). No, the major selling point of Rod Hardy's drama is the fact that it offers Daniel Radcliffe the chance to stretch his acting muscles away from the Harry Potter franchise. Radcliffe has made a couple of earnest attempts to show himself in a different light over the past year, with a self-deprecating cameo in Ricky Gervais' Extras and a brave stage performance in Peter Shaffer's Equus, which won him favourable reviews and a lot of respect. But Radcliffe's cinematic career is still inextricably tied to the wizard from Hogwarts, and a forgettable film like December Boys won't change that.
Radcliffe stars as Maps, one of four orphans spending the month of December in a small coastal town. For Maps, this is an opportunity to experience a rare taste of freedom, away from the confines of the orphanages, and he quickly focuses his attentions on local girl Lucy (Palmer); but for his young companions there is much more at stake. Spit, Spark and Misty hear a rumour that a childless couple is looking to adopt, and they resolve to do all they can to increase their odds of being the chosen one.
The boys' attempts to curry favour with their prospective parents are the film's best moments, lightly amusing and well played by the cast, but that's about as good as its gets. December Boys never really rises above the ordinary. It’s easy on the eye, the acting is pretty solid, and the story unfolds painlessly enough, but there's a complete lack of tension or drama here. Hardy's direction is insipid, embracing every possible visual cliché (how many swooping helicopter shots is too many?) and refusing to change gears as his film slowly ambles onward like a lazy Sunday afternoon. Occasionally, he'll throw in a fantasy sequence, but they are poorly defined and jammed clumsily into the picture.
It's far from terrible, though, and the actors - both young and old - are worth watching. Jack Thomson and Kris McQuade are terrific as the elderly couple taking care of the boys, and the most impressive of the younger performers are Cormie and Palmer, the latter displaying a maturity beyond her years. Both of these inexperienced actors look capable of making the step up to better films than December Boys in the future, but for Radcliffe the jury is still out. In the lead role, he is awkward throughout and downright unconvincing in the more emotional moments, and he is indisputably outshone by the majority of his co-stars here. It may still be some time before he fully convinces us that there is life after Harry.