“Secondhand Lions,” which opens nationwide today, is first-rate entertainment. So grab a seat and settle in; a genuine story awaits.
The movie—starring Robert Duvall, Michael Caine and Haley Joel Osment—really defies categorization, and such films often turn out to be some of the most interesting. They’re also hard for Hollywood to take a chance on, and that’s too bad. But it’s good for audiences that the industry finally did.
On one hand, “Secondhand Lions,” set in the 1960s, is a story about growing up. Osment plays Walter, a teenager dumped by his mother on the rural Texas farm of his eccentric great-uncles, Hub (Duvall) and Garth (Caine). It’s a story of give-and-take as Walter learns to be a man, and Hub and Garth regain a sense of worth and usefulness.
On the other hand, the film is an adventure, with games afoot on the Texas farm and, especially, flashbacks to Hub and Garth’s swashbuckling days in Europe and Africa as Walter learns about their past.
Various trailers for the film push these different angles: Some trailers highlight the coming-of-age story, while others feature the carousing elements. Amazingly, this film works on all its levels in the capable hands of writer and director Tim McCanlies.
The film is perfectly cast. Osment is wearing his older years (all 15 of them) well, and Duvall is dead-on as the gruff Hub, who believes that his fun in life is over. Caine’s Garth is the palliative to Hub’s attitude, and it’s through Garth’s time with Walter that audiences get the story of the brothers’ colorful past that, allegedly, gave them millions of dollars now stashed somewhere on their farm.
That rumor keeps salesmen en route to the farm, a routine that the brothers have turned into a game involving firearms. It also keeps otherwise disinterested relatives interested in the brothers. With money-grubbing Texas relatives on the prowl, comedy can’t be far behind. It isn’t.
The movie has touches of “Don Juan de Marco” and “Princess Bride,” and it is certainly as good as those films. The whole family will enjoy this one.
Speaking of families, it’s worth noting that Walter finds “family” in his great-uncles after his mother essentially abandons him. This isn’t a notion of “traditional” family, but it should be. It’s nothing new. People have been finding and making family in all sorts of ways since time began.
In this case, Walter’s new family teaches him about growing up and becoming a man. Part of that lesson entails deciding what to believe—and what to believe in.
As Walter begins to question Hub about the veracity of the stories Garth has been telling, Hub says, “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean you can’t believe it.”
And sure enough, at film’s end, Garth and Hub’s past is called into question—and Walter must decide what he believes.
The ending alone is worth the price of admission, but it’s really just the capstone of a beautiful film from the ground up.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Visit the movie’s official Web site.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material, language and action violence
Director: Tim McCanlies
Writer: Tim McCanlies
Cast: Garth: Michael Caine; Hub: Robert Duvall; Walter: Haley Joel Osment; Mae: Kyra Sedgwick.