There’s plenty to like about Ocean Boy (released as Bosch & Rockit everywhere but the United States market), but above all is the way it uses a chill, surfer-like tone to turn a fairly traditional crime plot into surprisingly moving and intimate drama. There are plenty of ways to tell the story of a layabout dealer losing an expensive stash and having to go on the run from both the law and his supplier (in this case, they’re one and the same), and in fact, most of those variations have been seen time again in films and television. It’s not that Ocean Boy avoids genre staples; it simply loses interest in them over the course of the story, focusing on its characters rather than their circumstances. That sort of free-wheeling story threading could be off-putting in a less patient film.
Bosch (Luke Hemsworth, delivering the sort of likable, low-key performance that could create a niche for himself within his family) is a small-time weed dealer and full-time surfer who spends his days on the beach and his nights parenting his son, Rockit (Rasmus King). Rockit — who says his father named him as such because he’s “out of this world” — is a good kid but troubled by his mother’s absence. She left the pair sometime before, and Bosch won’t tell him why. After a fire destroys their home and the stash of drugs that crooked cops tasked Bosch to sell, the two go on “holiday,” with Rockit unaware of his father’s criminal situation. It’s the blind leading the blind as the grown-up decisions Bosch has put off making his whole life start to affect his son’s journey to adulthood.
Although destroyed drugs and angry dealers are part of the story, they’re hardly the story engine you’d think from the synopsis. In fact, as the story progresses, it becomes almost an afterthought to Rockit’s attempts to make peace with his difficult parents and a world he’s found himself in with little real guidance. In some ways, it feels anti-climactic, but director Tyler Atkins (who hatched the story along with writer Drue Metz) makes a fairly bold decision to focus more on characters than capers. We get to know Rockit as he spends his days trying to figure it all out, sometimes with the help of Ash-Ash (Savannah La Rain), a young woman he meets at their first beach hideout and with whom he continues to cross paths. The extra time with Bosch means understanding the ways in which he is broken and coming to appreciate his desire to be a good father despite his failures.
All throughout, Atkins and cinematographer Ben Nott spend an inordinate amount of time just filming the character surfing on beautiful Australian beaches while soft music plays. It’s almost dream-like in its lulling quality. That’s not to say it’s boring. It’s effective at creating a mood for a story where the question isn’t whether Bosch is going to prison but rather whether he’ll find enough stability to become a good father and whether Rockit can learn to accept who his parents are as he becomes an adult.
The seemingly lackadaisical nature of Ocean Boy‘s plot won’t be to all tastes, especially those interested in the crime angle. This is not Animal Kingdom, not by a long shot. Rather, it’s something gentler, sweeter and fulfilling in its own right. A lovely experience.