This poignant coming-of-age story is a beautifully realized exploration of the nature of family, set against the gorgeous backdrop of some of Australia's wildest landscapes.
Four tweener boysMaps (Daniel Radcliffe), Misty (Lee Cormie), Spit (James Fraser), and Spark (Christian Byers)--have grown up together in a dusty Catholic orphanage deep in Australia's outback during the 1970's. The boys are fast friends, partly because they are the home's December Boys, the only four born in that month. As the film begins, all four are once again passed over by an adoptive couple--and disappointed once again in their collective dream of leaving the place and becoming part of a real family. But fate steps in, as the foursome gets the life-altering chance to go for Christmas vacation to visit an elderly couple that lives by a gorgeous cove on the sea. As their holiday progresses, the boys begin to compete for the affections of another family living in the magical cove, a couple contemplating adopting a child. By the time the holiday is over, all four have had an unforgettable life experience that will shape the rest of their days.
Daniel Radcliffe branches out from his iconic role as Harry Potter with this terrific performance as Maps, the eldest of the four orphan boys. As a slightly hardened teen who secretly longs for love and stability, this character is very different from Harry (despite the orphan thread that links the two together), and Radcliffe inhabits him completely. The other three boys also give natural, believable performances, especially Lee Cormie, who is the film's narrator and central character. His portrayal of that bespectacled, artistic, smaller-than-the-others Misty is nuanced and brave, quite the accomplishment for a kid who has only just turned fifteen. The rest of the gifted cast--including iconic Aussie actor Jack Thompson, of classics like Breaker Morant and The Man from Snowy River--all add to the overall quality of this well- acted telling of an emotional, but never sappy, story of adolescent longing and coming of age.
Australian Rod Hardy spent more than 20 years in Hollywood, directing mostly episodic television, with a few made-for-TV movies (Buffalo Girls) and feature films (Robinson Crusoe with Pierce Brosnan). With December Boys, Hardy headed back home to use all that experience to make a film that speaks to the emotions of childhood which resonates into adult experience. Using the incredible landscapes of Oz as a key element of the story, Hardy creates a visual cornucopia that parallels the emotional journey the four orphans take through the course of the film. His adept handling of many of the most universal life passages--first kiss, loss of parents, love/hate of siblings, dealing with the death of a loved one--bring a strong realism to the story adapted from a novel by Michael Noonan. Yet there's a hint of magical realism to the tale, too, as well as a strong religious undertone. All meld into a cinematic experience that will engage you and stay with you long after the credits roll.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.