Movie Review: Master Harold... and the Boys
Length: 87 minutes
Release Date: May 4, 2011
Directed by: Lonny Price
Stars: 3 out of 5
Director Lonny Price has little experience with the big screen. Most of his past work came in the form of television movies, TV shows, and a few concert films. "Master Harold...and the Boys" is his first feature film, and he does a great job of bringing the play to life.
"Master Harold...and the Boys" started life as a stage play written by Athol Fugard. The play opened at the Yale Reparatory Theatre before heading to Broadway. A 1985 film by the same name cast Matthew Broderick ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off") in the lead role, but that film is nothing special when compared to this modern version.
The film takes place in South Africa. As apartheid sweeps the nation, a teenage boy finds himself unhappily trapped in a life he does not want. Hally (Freddie Highmore, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") wants nothing more than to run his own life. His domineering father has different plans for him and often looks down on those who actually help his son.
Hally forms close relationships with Sam (Ving Rhames, "Mission: Impossible III") and Willie (Patrick Mofokeng, "Invictus"), two black waiters who live nearby. Hally's father is the stereotypical racist, making jokes at the expense of those around him. Although Hally pretends that he agrees with his father, he actually looks at Sam and Willie as the fathers he never had. After seeing Hally's father force Hally to do menial tasks, Sam steps up and takes over the father role. Everything changes when Hally learns some disturbing news, and as he takes his anger out on his friends, he must discover the man inside him.
"Master Harold...and the Boys" came and went from theaters without a squeak, which is a shame because this is a strong and well-acted film. After playing at a few film festivals, it found its way onto DVD. With the success of "The Help," new viewers discovered the film, helping it gain popularity.
The film's shoestring budget helps with its success. The director limits the scenes to a few sets, which makes the story a little more believable. The problem with most stage-to-screen adaptations is that directors often go overboard. Price understands the difficulties with making the transition to the big screen, and by limiting the sets, he draws viewers into the story.
The main problem with the film comes across when the director takes viewers into the world of South Africa. The scenes set in Hally's home feel realistic, while those outside are hard to believe. In one scene, the camera pans across a newer vehicle, instantly bringing the viewer out of the film. Keeping the film self-contained would better benefit the story.
Highmore does an excellent job of playing a man caught between two worlds. Watching him on the screen, it's easy to see why he landed roles in so many recent Hollywood blockbusters. He does a balancing act, sometimes acting like an agent of change and sometimes acting like his father's son. The character draws sympathy from the viewers, especially when his father degrades him in various ways. When he finally releases his frustration, viewers will understand where his actions come from.
The other standout in the film is Ving Rhames. Those who only know him from his roles in cheesy films like "Dawn of the Dead" and "Piranha 3DD" will find his portrayal touching and memorable. Rhames does an admirable job of copying the traditional South African accent, and he comes across as someone whom viewers can trust. He and Mofokeng play off each other brilliantly, adding small touches to otherwise ordinary scenes that elevate the film to another level.
A movie is only as strong as its score, and that of "Master Harold...and the Boys" is tasteful and elegant. The soft music playing in the background adds an extra dimension to the film, keeping the viewer trapped in the story. When Hally finds himself throwing things around the house and acting like a spoiled brat, the music increases in tone and pace, reminding viewers that this is one of the pivotal moments in the film.
"Master Harold...and the Boys" is an extremely personal film. Watching the story might make viewers feel like they are getting an inside look at the life of one young man. While most viewers cannot relate to the exact experiences Hally has, many will relate to his personal demons and the relationship he shares with his father. As the story unfolds, viewers will eagerly await the next revelation. With talented actors and a strong story, "Master Harold...and the Boys" packs a powerful punch.