As a young man released from prison after a lengthy term for an atrocity committed when he was a child, Andrew Garfield pulls off a death-defying act of imagination.
With a new name, Jack Burridge, and a made-up past, the protagonist gets a job and falls in love. His case worker (Peter Mullan) views Jack as his "greatest accomplishment." Jack is not so sure.
The genius of Garfield's performance is that he fills him with equal amounts of terror and wonder.
Garfield shows you waves of tenderness and joy washing over Jack's face when he's in bed with his patient lover (Katie Lyons). But these waves can't wipe his conscience clean. Garfield does things I've never seen an actor do before. His shy gestures are ambiguous and endearing at the same time. His euphoria is luminous and a little crazy.
His character breaks the sides of the artful box that director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe have placed him in.
When they flash back to his early youth, homing in on the events leading up to the crime, his childhood proves to be as limited as his adulthood is open-ended. Working more like clinicians than dramatic artists, the filmmakers people it with escapees from a case study rather than complex fictional characters: the cancer-ridden mother, the heavy-drinking father, the bullies who harass our boy and the feral child who takes them on and becomes his dominating and corrupting pal.
But in the movie's "present," Garfield imbues Jack's friendships with a piercing vulnerability that makes them equally fresh and suspenseful. We measure his ups and downs with each beat of our hearts.
(The Weinstein Co.) Starring Andrew Garfield, Peter Mullan, Katie Lyons. Directed by John Crowley. Rated R for language, sexuality, some disturbing content and drug use. Time 100 minutes.