This Boy's Life

1993, Movie, R, 115 mins

Review

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Based on Tobias Wolff's brilliant memoir of the same title, THIS BOY'S LIFE is a well-acted film about an extremely painful adolescence. In capturing the compelling battle between a boy and his abusive stepfather, director Michael Caton-Jones cannily avoids obvious sentimentality, opting to let a rather brutal story tell itself.

1957. Angel-faced but troubled Toby "Jack" Wolff (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his brassy blonde mom, Caroline (Ellen Barkin), hit the road in search of a better life. Caroline is wooed by Dwight (Robert De Niro), an auto mechanic who lives far away in Concrete, Washington with his three kids, and marries him to give Toby a stable family life. Neither is happy: Dwight is a sadistic disciplinarian whose abuse Toby suffers for the sake of his mother, while Caroline endures a loveless marriage for the sake of her son. The conflict between Dwight and Toby escalates frighteningly, and the two are soon locked in a brutal battle of wills.

Screenwriter Robert Getchell's adaptation often simplifies its source, but for the most part he and Caton-Jones remain faithful to Wolff's remarkable story. Young DiCaprio makes a very strong impression in his first leading role, delineating the many moods of adolescence with ease. Robert De Niro often seems forced in comparison; in fact, his savage portrayal stands as the movie's main blemish. Still, this is powerful and moving stuff. leave a comment

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