Lions" might be the king of the family-film
jungle. Although it might be too complex
for viewers under the age of, say, 8,
it will delight anyone under 108.
The allure starts with two of the greatest
characters to appear on the screen in
years. And they're played by two of the
greatest actors, Robert Duvall and Michael
Caine. Haley Joel Osment provides admirable
There's something for everyone: comedy,
drama and romance. There are swashbuckling
adventures, silly stories and wild animals.
It's funny one minute, touching the next
and always entertaining. Granted, we know
where the movie is going right from the
opening frame, but we don't care because
the journey is so much fun.
The story is set in the 1960s on a ranch
in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. Fourteen-year-old
Walter (Osment) is dumped on his two eccentric
great uncles for the summer. They have
no phone, no TV and no neighbor within
miles. Unless Walter can learn to whittle,
it's going to be a long visit.
(Duvall) and Garth (Caine) aren't any
happier about the situation than Walter.
Two cantankerous old men who are set in
their eccentric ways, they're in no mood
"If you need something, get it yourself,"
one growls. "Better yet, learn to
Hub and Garth have a particular distrust
of relatives. Rumor has it that they have
a stash of money -- perhaps millions --
tucked away. Nobody knows where the money
came from. Some say they were bank robbers;
another story ties them to Al Capone.
And no one knows where the money is, although
nosy shirttail relatives keep showing
up trying to find out.
Let's get the obvious out of the way:
Yes, Walter eventually is going to crack
through the old goats' crusty facades
and discover that they really are loving
and caring. And Hub and Garth are going
to discover that Walter really doesn't
care whether they have money; he likes
them for themselves.
Even though the plot is vintage formula,
nothing else is. Sure, one of Hollywood's
mainstay stereotypes is the character
who pretends to be cranky but really has
a heart of gold. But these guys, especially
Hub, aren't pretending. They really are
cranky. They snap at each other when no
one else is around to yell at. When Hub
goes into town and picks a fight, we're
sure that it's not the first time -- or,
likely, the last.
The movie was written and directed by
Tim McCanlies, whose 1998 comic-drama
"Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81" is
considered a classic portrait of small-town
Americana. There's nothing to indicate
that the story is autobiographical. But
we have to believe that McCanlies, who
grew up in Texas in the 1960s, knew real-life
versions of Hub and Garth. They're too
tangible to be completely fictional.
Duvall and Caine know the characters,
too. They're the older versions of roles
the actors have played for years. Garth
is Caine's character from "Alfie"
as a retiree. Duvall's Hub is a gray-haired
cousin of his domineering father in "The
Overlooked in "Pay It Forward"
and wasted in "A.I.," Osment
proves that he can do more than just play
cute. Walter is made up of various layers,
all of them interesting. He's shy but
observant. He appears vulnerable, but
when pushed, has a surprising toughness.
The narrative is an assemblage of bits
and pieces. Life on the ranch is a series
of quirky events, including the time when
Garth and Hub buy a lion from a zoo in
hopes of setting it loose and staging
a private safari in their cornfields.
But the lion turns out to be old and frail.
"It's defective," Garth mopes.
He agrees to let Walter keep it as a pet.
Garth periodically entertains Walter with
a story about the years he and Hub supposedly
spent in the French Foreign Legion. The
tale, enacted on the screen, unfolds like
a 1940s B-movie, full of sword fights,
horses dashing across sand dunes and villainous
strangers. Walter has trouble believing
any of it, but he's always disappointed
when the story sessions come to an end.
We can relate. We wish "Secondhand
Lions" wouldn't end, either.
out of four stars
setup: A shy 14-year-old is
sent to spend the summer with two
works: The relatives -- cranky
old men played by Robert Duvall
and Michael Caine -- are among the
most entertaining characters of
doesn't: The story's resolution
line: "If we die during
the night, you'll have to fend for
yourself in the morning."
PG; fisticuffs, adult themes
favourite critic , Jeff
Strickler of Star Tribune,
who wrote this excellent review, has
also named Secondhand Lions as
one of his Top Ten films of 2003 .
Be sure to read his excellent article
, dated 28th December 2003 , at www.startribune.com
. Thanks , Jeff ! We could not agree
with you more !