Song for a Raggy Boy

Talk about your dangerous lives of altar boys! “Song for a Raggy Boy” is a gray, overcast film about nefarious goings-on at a Catholic reform school in Ireland, circa 1939. It is a sort of “Dead Poets Society” for wayward boys, but not nearly as rewarding.

Aidan Quinn plays William Franklin, a broken man who fought on the side of the communists in the Spanish Civil War who now finds himself teaching at St. Jude’s. He lost his girlfriend and his best friend in the war, as well as much of whatever faith he had.

Now he is teaching delinquent boys, most around the age of 13, most of whom can’t read or write. Unsurprisingly, he has a drastic effect on them, and by the film’s end, they are quoting literature and poetry to him in a manner that is meant to be highly inspiring.

His opponent in all this is the evil Brother John (Iain Glen), the school’s disciplinarian, who believes these troublemakers can never change and shouldn’t even be treated like human beings. He likes to beat up on them. Another priest has even more troublesome intentions.

My goodness, but it’s all very dreary! Franklin’s crisis of faith is weak and obligatory, and Quinn’s idea of being “haunted” seems to consist of always looking like he didn’t get enough sleep. His interaction with the boys makes for some honest, avuncular scenes — newcomers John Travers and Chris Newman are sympathetic as the two most troubled, most doomed boys — but it in no way approaches the level of impact the filmmakers obviously hoped for.

C (1 hr., 32 min.; R, some harsh profanity, brief scenes of graphic violence, brief partial nudity, some unsettling violence toward children.)