Harry Potter star shines in December Boys

December Boys: 102 minutes. Rated: PG. Director: Rod Hardy. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Jack Thompson, Victoria Hill, website.

Harry Potter star Radcliffe shines in December BoysIf location alone were enough to make a brilliant film, then December Boys would be destined for greatness. The picturesque South Australian coastal areas where this drama unfolds provide an almost magical backdrop for a classic coming-of-age tale.

In fact, while treading familiar narrative territory, taking its characters from a state of innocence to one of knowledge and experience, December Boys finds transcendence in moments of near fantasy.

One late 1960s summer, four young orphans — shy, freckled Misty (Lee Cormie), rambunctious Spark (Christian Byers), Spit (James Fraser), and their brooding, older friend, Maps (Radcliffe) — are given leave from their outback orphanage to spend their holidays in a tiny seaside community. The boys are entrusted to the care of eccentric seaman Bandy (Thompson) and his stern wife Skipper (Kris McQuade).

Amid the cliffs and caves of the charming cove, the boys encounter a diverse cast of characters, including stunt rider Fearless (Sullivan Stapleton) and his exotic wife Teresa (Hill); and a grumpy fisherman called Shellback, who’s on a Captain Ahab-esque quest to land an ancient fish of mythical proportions.

Misty’s inner journey is at the heart of the film; he’s hoping the childless Fearless and Teresa might adopt him, although he’s initially naïve to the personal difficulties that prevent them from immediately wanting to do so.

Harry Potter star Radcliffe shines in December BoysBut strangely, given that the role has obviously been bulked up due to the casting of Harry Potter himself, a subplot regarding Maps’ sexual awakening at the (ahem) hands of lithe young local, Lucy (Teresa Palmer), proves to be the most engaging.

Having been raised in a Catholic orphanage, the institution’s spiritual teachings colour the boys’ experiences. Misty’s quirky visions of the Mother of God, or of nuns doing cartwheels down the beach, are a highlight of the film.

And Misty and Maps’ separate storylines converge around a mystical, shared vision during the climactic moments of the film, which offers a kind of emotional and spiritual catharsis and affects their futures in surprising ways.

December Boys contains many powerful and humorous scenes, enlivened by strong performances (the Harry Potter films notwithstanding, Radcliffe is a serious talent) and the aforementioned instances of magical realism.

However, despite these occasional moments of near greatness, the film suffers due to a lack of focus and an underdeveloped and ultimately unsatisfying plot.

This is one of those movies that are virtually ruined by the last three minutes or so. The surprise resolution of the subplot regarding Misty’s desire to be adopted all but lays waste to the emotional journey his character has taken the audience on.

Meanwhile, a cheesy epilogue featuring the boys returning to the cove as old men could have been excised completely, to the film’s betterment.



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