April 4, 2010

This Boy's Life - 1993

Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Writer: Robert Getchell
Starring: Ellen Barkin, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro

"I believe there's such thing as a bad boy, bad clear through. it's gonna be my job to set you straight, to kill or cure." Based on the memoirs of the same name, This Boy's Life follows a period of years in the adolescence of Tobias Wolff (DiCaprio), specifically related to his upbringing by his mother (Barkin) and abusive stepfather (DeNiro).

Now, I could just dismiss this film as a white, gender-reversed version of Precious set in the 1950s, but I won't, because it's so much more than that. The film paints a vivid picture of a childhood that, in the era, was unfortunately more likely the rule than the exception. Caton-Jones, fresh off Doc Hollywood, proved he could expertly work with a film legend like DeNiro, who shines as dreadful stepfather Dwight. DiCaprio was fresh off Growing Pains at this point, and obviously had a lot of growing to do as an actor to get to where he is today (making Scorsese films involving Massachusetts accents), but one can see how this set him up for the heralded performance in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Once you get past the idea of 50-year-old DeNiro beating up a 20-going-on-12-year-old DiCaprio, and the Elvis/Wolverine-ish haircuts which apparently all juvenile delinquents had in the 1950s, it's quite an entertaining flick.

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