Secondhand Lions

Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment, Kyra Sedgwick, Nicky Katt

Director: Tim McCanlies

It’s hard for a film to go wrong when it stars two bona fide legends of cinema (Robert Duvall and Michael Caine) and a seriously promising child actor (Haley Joel Osment), and indeed this humorous family movie doesn’t put a foot wrong. It has a wonderful plot fleshed out with colourful episodes and intriguing secrets and mysteries which get revealed bit by bit throughout the film.

It is about Walter (Osment), an introspective 14 year-old who lives with his feckless mother (Kyra Sedgwick). One day the mother decides she needs a couple of months to herself, so she leaves Walter to live with her two reclusive uncles, Hub and Garth McCaan (Duvall and Caine), who live on a remote Texas farm. It is hard to say who is unhappiest about this forced vacation – Walter himself, who has to live in a house without a television or a telephone for two months, or the uncles, who resent having their solitude and repose disturbed by a naive youth. The two uncles really are the original ‘grumpy old men’, but it is magical to watch how they gradually come out of their hard shells and warm to poor Walter, and how Walter warms to them, as he begins to appreciate their idiosyncrasies.

Before long, the uncles are helping Walter mature into a young man, while, more entertainingly, Walter returns the favour and helps his uncles relive a second childhood. Walter turns them from notorious misers into profligate spenders, and soon they are buying all sorts of junk – a machine for catapulting clay pigeons, an ageing lion, a plane, and just wait for the last scene to see what they ended up buying for their small reservoir.

The performances from Caine and Duvall are terrific – they make a classy double act as the eccentric uncles. Meanwhile Osment is given the monumental task of having to hold his own ground against these two huge talents who have over 85 years of experience making movies between them. He copes fantastically, despite being given the rather thankless straight role as the naive youth, who is all too fond of growing misty eyed at emotional moment. A lot of child actors in movies make you want to give them a good hard kick (remember how much you wished that Macaulay Culkin would get caught by the burglars in those HOME ALONE movies?). Osment, however, inspires our sympathy for the most part. He shows enough talent to suggest that he will survive that difficult transaction from child actor to adult actor in the coming years.

Writer and director Tim McCanlies has not got many films in his CV at present, but he has done a great job crafting this movie. All the rudimentary themes for a Hollywood movie – the importance of valour, honour and loyalty – are correct, present and in good working order. This is as perfect a family movie as you are likely to see this year.

5 out of 6 stars

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