DVD Review – This Boy’s Life
This classic film is getting its release on DVD, Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, This Boy’s Life
[imdb]tt0108330[/imdb] TITLE – [imdb:title] YEAR – [imdb:year] DIRECTOR – Michael Caton-Jones CAST – [imdb:cast] WRITERS – Tobias Wolff
I am not going to pretend I know much about Tobias Wolff, the writer that this film is based upon. I have not read his memoirs so I cannot compare this film to them and if I am brutally honest I am not really the autobiography type. But saying that I can imagine that being a film maker that is signed up to make a film adaptation of a very well read book, must be a very tall order. If that book is based on a true story, a biography even, then the pressure to get everything just so, for fear of the author not being happy with the result, must be immense. I am not sure how Tobias Wolff felt about the film adaptation of This Boy’s Life, but what I do know is that Michael Caton-Jones did a pretty solid job in making an emotional film.
Tobias, played by a very young Leonardo DiCaprio and his Mother Caroline, Ellen Barkin, are town hopping. After a string of bad luck and loser boyfriends/new step dads the pair settle in Seattle. All this change has not been kind to the teenage Tobias. He is unsettled in school and always in trouble, at his age it is no wonder. He already smokes and has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Caroline is in total despair.
Along comes the kind and gentlemanly Dwight, played by Robert De Niro, he is all airs and graces, and quickly charms Caroline into thinking he is a good prospect for a husband. Tobias, or Jack as he now likes to be called manages to get himself suspended and this is the last straw for his desperate Mother. She sends him off to ‘Concrete’ to live with Dwight, if the pair get along then she shall marry the ex Navy Sailor and complete the family.
This perfect set up soon fails, in fact very soon, on the drive from the city up to Concrete. What develops is a test of wills between Dwight and Tobias. While Tobias has the sympathy of the audience, Dwight has some very good points. Tobias who has been solely raised by his Mother has been brought up with a very soft hand, is on the verge of getting a criminal record. Abandoned by his real Father, and according to Dwight, should not dream of opportunities missed or blame his Mother for her shortcomings.
While Dwight is right about these things he certainly has a strange way of showing it. Dwight is not perfect. He needs to have control, and he maintains this control by making those around him fearful. He is in short a bully. But Dwight doesn’t see it that way, no, he just see’s himself as a shepherd guiding his loved ones on the correct path. He simply tells them their error then applies the correct verbal (or sometimes physical) punishment.
The problem lies in the fact that Dwight relishes in intimidating his family, especially Tobias. He is under no illusion about his step-son’s feelings towards him. This actually pleases him, maybe this stems back from when he was a child and the feelings he had towards his own Father, who knows.
De Niro is extremely safe in this role, it is right out of his CV all be it with a different accent. He is strong and ultimately frightening as the over bearing and brutish Step-Father. As much as it pains me to say this, DiCaprio was excellent. I know he has a lot of fans out there, but I have never really got his appeal. In this film he certainly shines. The scenes with the two alpha males in the household squaring up against each other are realistic and tingly to watch (being from a broken family I can very much relate to these arguments), a true testament to the talent that both of these actors possess.
We mustn’t take anything away from Ellen Barkin though. She may have been overshadowed by these two shouting males for most of the film, but that doesn’t mean she did a bad job. Far from it. She played the beaten down and happy to settle woman so pitch perfect it was spooky, not wanting to be a referee between her new Husband and her Son (been there, done that). Also,look out for a VERY young Eliza Dushku as Dwight’s youngest daughter.
Michael Caton-Jones who directed This Boy’s Life did a very nice job in transferring this book on to the silver screen. The abuse that Tobias received is never over visualised, Caton-Jones chose to show the emotion the characters were feeling instead. The is a beautiful shot of Tobias doing his paper round in the rain, all alone on a long dark street in Concrete. This shot really helps us to feel the cold and loneliness the Teenager was feeling.
In conclusion, This Boy’s Life is a hard-hitting drama that is very well written and performed excellently. Even though the premise of child abuse and desperation may seem a lot to stomach it is never shown in a way that will turn you off. If you like a timeless tale, and if you like a drama, this may well be the film for you for you.
[starreview tpl=16 size='30']
THIS BOY’S LIFE IS RELEASED ON DVD IN THE UK ON 17TH OCTOBER 2011 BY SECOND SIGHT
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