This weekend has not been a particularly good one for my family, so I thought we were in some need of cheering up. For that reason I rented one of my favourite movies, Secondhand Lions.
Despite having a well known cast (Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment), Secondhand Lions one of those many fall releases that fell through the cracks. Released in September 2003, it grossed only about $41,000,000. That was a real shame, as Secondhand Lions is a very well done movie. The film centres on 13 year old Walter (Haley Joel Osment) who is left by his flighty mother to stay with his two rather eccentric great uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine)in late Fifties Texas. The movie focuses on the relationship between the two old men and the youth left in their charge.
Many movies of these types tend towards the maudlin side. This is not the case with Secondhand Lions. The movie is sentimental without being mawkish. It is never manipulative. It never resorts to clever plot devices to evoke the viewer's sympathy. There are no shocking revelations to be had in the entire film. Instead, Secondhand Lions concentrates on its characters, allowing them to develop at their own pace without resorting to the usual cinematic tricks.
This having been said, one should not be fooled into thinking Secondhand Lions is a simple, straight forward film. The plot is enlivened by Garth's tales of their adventures in the French Foreign Legion and Hub's romance with the beautiful princess Jasmine. These segments are shot in the style of the swashbucklers of old, complete with extravagant swordplay and bold escapes. Alongside these action sequences, Secondhand Lions has its share of comedy and even a bit of tragedy.
The responsibility for the quality of Secondhand Lions squarely rests with four men. One is writer/director Tim McCanlies. His screenplay lets the characters drive the plot, rather than letting the plot drive the characters. His direction skillfully blends the various elements of the film in such a way that it is enjoyable and not without its surprises. The other three men responsible for the quality of Secondhand Lions are Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Haley Joel Osment. The three of them give great performances, never striking a false note once.
At its core Secondhand Lions is not simply about the bond between a youth and his two older relatives, but what it means to be a man. In the speech that Hub gives young men, he sums up the most important things in life as honour, courage, virtue, and love. It is hard to argue with that. Secondhand Lions is definitely a fine film that the entire family can enjoy.
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