In director Michael Morrissey’s film ‘Boy Wonder’ we are privileged to meet Sean Donavan (Caleb Steinmeyer), and Sean is not a very joyful young man. A New York City high school senior, the boy is wickedly smart, gifted both athletically and intellectually, but when he was nine years old his loving mother was murdered in the middle of a carjacking right before his eyes, and he hasn’t been the same since. Sean is still survived by his father Terry (Bill Sage) who seems to genuinely care for his son, but during that time when his mother was alive Bill was a drunk, and not a happy drunk as he often beat both his boy and his mother, and Sean’s opinion of his father was pretty much set in stone from that point on.
Sean spends most of his spare time either training for some unforeseen battle while roiding up, or hanging out at the police station looking at mugshots relentlessly searching for his mother’s killer. The precinct that he hangs out at has a new officer in Teresa Ames (Zulay Henao) who finds this kid a little odd, but the old guy she’s replacing (Chuck Cooper) implores her to let just let the boy be. That’s not gonna happen.
Now Detective Ames has a story too. She’s been on the NYPD fast track ever since she put away hardcore criminal Larry Childs (James Russo), though Childs does promise her that he won’t be down long and when he does get out her family will pay the price. He’s an asshole. But Detective Ames doesn’t even get to see her family all that much since her ex-husband got custody of her little boy, mainly because she spends all of her spare time chasing down criminals and as we will soon see… harassing strange teenage boys.
You see… in lieu of finding his mothers killer, in a case that’s about as cold as a case can be, young Sean has decided to track down other people who hurt people. Yes, Sean is using his police access, steroid abuse and MMA skills to find suspected killers, who might’ve gotten off, and ending their lives. Sean’s technique in doing this is a little strange in that he allows himself to get seriously f’d up, I guess giving his opponent to a false sense of security, before finally doing them in.
But as bright as Sean is in doing this thing, he is leaving a bit of trail behind which has piqued the interest of Detective Ames, not that Sean is all that concerned because he’s on a mission, a mission that has gotten a whole lot more complicated by some things he thinks he might know about that night his mother died, and his father. Or maybe not. It looks as if Sean’s tenuous grip on reality might be slipping and now we don’t if what he believes is real or imagined. And the lives of the boy, the cop, the father and the criminal will all come around full circle.
No doubt, Michael Morrissey’s ‘Boy Wonder’ is a film that I consider a fine usage of my personal time. The movie does have the usual things we rely on when judging whether or not we will enjoy a film, such as some seriously strong performances, a depressing, gritty look to match the subject matter we are dealing with and the city we are living in, and a smattering of brutal and violent, but well placed action sequences, but it is the narrative and how well written that ‘Boy Wonder’ was that I believe sets it apart. Nine times out of ten my friends, it usually comes down to the story in these things.
Obviously the concept of some crazed vigilante handling their business in a violent way is not the newest cinematic concept, and the fact that Sean is running out killing people isn’t what makes this movie special, but the character of Sean himself is what’s unique. Sean is smart, knowledgeable, athletic, lethal, righteous… and a little crazy. Until he becomes really crazy. At first it’s kind of easy to root for Sean, and we can easily see him as some kind of low budget Boy Wonder styled superhero, but as he goes on and becomes more consumed by his mission, and his life becomes more complicated, rooting for Sean becomes a little more difficult. Now we have to seriously question what Sean is doing and that maybe a guy running around the street shooting people to death for perceived crimes isn’t the best idea around.
This is the strength of story that Morrissey has written in that it exists completely in the gray. The movie doesn’t give you any easy answers and almost all of the characters have something weighing them down, and this gives us something that we aren’t really used to, that being a movie that is actually challenging to the viewer.
The conclusion is also murky, but at least it gives you the necessary tools to make an informed decision about what you think might’ve happened. Recently, after seeing the British thriller ‘Kill List’, my main complaint about that otherwise fine film was that the filmmakers created an environment that didn’t give me the ability to make some kind lucid hypothesis on what the hell might be happening. ‘Boy Wonder’ on the other hand was written well enough that any number of people could see the same sequences of scenes and come to three or four different conclusions and have a valid argument on why what they saw was the correct theory. That’s good stuff.
‘Boy Wonder’ is an accomplishment on a lot of levels and delivers on almost all of these levels. One of the better films we’ve seen this year.