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VINE VOICEon October 26, 2004
I just happened to catch this film on HBO one evening and was stunned at how good it turned out to be. While I appreciate some of the remarks of earlier reviewers, I don't believe that films and books should be evaluated against the same criteria, so I am more forgiving of the bedroom scene in the film. For me, the bedroom scene between Dwight and Toby's mother serves a purpose -- to show just how much of a crude, repressed guy Dwight really is, not to mention calculating, since his bedroom behavior is about 180 degrees away from the uber-gentleman he purported to be when he was courting the mother.

In any case, the main interest of the film for me lies in the role of Toby as played by DiCaprio. I was never much impressed with him in Titantic and his other hits. He was adequate, but in my view much overrated. Here, however, his talent is much clearer to me, especially in the way he convinces me to believe that Toby is actually a good person, despite his behavior.

But the main strength of the film is Tobias Wolff's story line. For much of the film, there is an inexorable feeling of Toby marching to his ultimate doom, not unlike one of those novels of the Victorians like Thomas Hardy. There is a sense that, no matter what he ever does, Toby is destined to become a desperate adult, trapped in Concrete and probably slowly drinking himself to death after his shift is over at the local factory. The fact that Toby gets himself out of Concrete and away from his step-father, not to mention also saves his mother, is deeply hopeful. Even though the notes at the end of the film say that he was eventually expelled from the Hill School, it's clear that he went on to make something quite impressive of himself, and that he did so in spite of all of the nasty stuff that went on during his formative years.

This makes me want to recommend the film to all teens, especially boys, who feel helpless and trapped right now, as well as to the adults who care for them. Wolff's story says that no matter how difficult our circumstances, and no matter how many blunders our caregivers make, each individual still has the opportunity to shape his/her life. We are not destined for anything that we don't want for ourselves, provided we are willing to push back and fight for ourselves.

Finally, as a foster parent I found this film hopeful because it shows me that well-meaning adults like Toby's mother (and me!) may make mistakes, but that a child's failure is not completely determined by our decisions. And that's a degree of comfort for those of us who are trying hard and worry about whether we're doing the right thing.
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on February 3, 2000
"This Boy's Life" is based on the memoir of author Tobias Wolff. It is about a young teenage boy, Toby, and his recently divorced mother(Barkin) trying to find a new life for themselves in the Pacific Northwest of the 1950's. They bounce around from town to town, never putting down any roots, and Toby becomes more and more delinquent and uncontrollable. His mother, desperate for some security in her life and a controlling influence on Toby's life, marries a mechanic from the dreary town of Concrete by the name of Dwight (DiNiro). Dwight is a phony, bullying, louse and Toby recognizes it right off. The main part of the film chronicles Dwight's physical and mental abuse of Toby and Toby's dreams of escaping Concrete and Dwight.
This film was DOA in theaters when it premiered back in 1993. It was, however, fairly well-received by critics who especially took note of the performance of young newcomer Leonardo DiCaprio as Toby. I have even read a few critics state that DiCaprio upstaged DiNiro at every turn. That is laughable. Although DiCaprio is very good, DiNiro is fantastic. Dwight is one of his most memorable characters. At one moment Dwight can be all phony smiles and charm and the very next he is a dorky, but just as menacing, version of DiNiro's character from "Goodfellas"- Jimmy Conway. DiNiro's Dwight has a host of extremely memorable and sometimes highly amusing scenes: the Navy trick, the car ride, the candy hog, the Edsel, and, of course, Robert DiNiro in a Boy Scout's uniform.
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on September 7, 2001
This movie is about a mother and son, played by Ellen Barkin and Leonardo DiCaprio, who move in with the mother's new husband Dwight, played by Robert DeNiro, whose true colors come out after they move in. This is a serious and often disturbing film. Dwight and Tobey(DiCaprio)do not get along. This leads to a number of confrontations that are both verbal and physical. The physical fights are extremely unnerving. You have been warned. It is beautifully acted and written. DeNiro is very electrifying and larger than life. He is down right terrifying. DiCaprio is just as good. The guy can act. Ellen Barkin is good, but she is sort of a co-star and doesn't seem as important. The final climax is one hell of a memorable scene. It's almost worth the price of rental alone. See this movie. You'll be deeply satisfied.
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on October 5, 2003
I have always liked Leonardo DiCaprio. I think that his portrayal in the television show 'Growing Pains' was very heartfelt and brought a lot of depth to the show. Since the time that he first started there, I began to fall more and more deeply in love with his acting ability and his talent. There are, however, few of his movies until recently (Gangs of New York) that I could say I really enjoyed. This was one of those few. I tend to carry a copy of this movie around with me now in the hopes that I'll find a video player, that is how intense my feelings are for this particular movie. I have also read Tobias Wolff's autobiography on which this movie was based, and I have got to say that the movie outshines even the book! A rare thing indeed!
Never have I seen better acting than that which is performed by DiCaprio and De Niro in this particular movie. They are a stunning team, work brilliantly together, and truly bring the effect of the relationship between Jack (Tobias) and his step-father home to the audience. If this movie doesn't make you cry, nothing will! The film industry needs to put out more movies like this more regularly. Nothing can compare to a great movie with a lot of heart that shows, ultimately *reality*. "This Boy's Life" does just that where many, many others have failed. Brilliant acting by DiCaprio, De Niro and Barkin and outstanding directing make this one to own and to treasure.
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on April 19, 2013
If I had just one reason to tell you to rent this, it would be to watch this for the sheer joy of seeing Leonardo DiCaprio in his younger years, showing off his acting chops.

That being said, it is also fascinating to watch this because Deniro plays one hell of a miserable warped bastard with a bad temper. It seems his goal in life is to make everyone as miserable as he is.

His character enjoys being a macho man, even if deep down inside, he is a hardly a man at all.

While he enjoys making others miserable, his main focus is DiCaprio's character.

This is based on a memoir and after viewing the movie I could not believe the author lived through this kind of life.
The movie is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

The fact that it is a period piece( the movie starts in the 50's) is also a pleasure to watch, along with the songs of the era being played in the film's soundtrack.

After the movie I had to go online and read up on the author of this memoir.

You may find yourself just as interested to see what becomes of a boy that loves his mother so dearly, that he always agrees to go along with her wishes just to make her happy.

Wishes that he often knows are going to end up being nothing but heartache- for both of them.

The mother is played by Ellen Barkin, who fits very well into the role of a lovely and attractive single Mom of the 50's.

One who has resigned herself to another bad decision she has made.

She can do far better than Deniro- but she feels stuck and since the truth is that she *is* stuck, so is Dicaprio.

This is the first movie I have seen of DiCaprio as a youngster, before he hit the 'Titanic' wave of fame.

Deniro has played bad guys over the course of his movie career but nothing quite like this.

I would consider it a character study between DiCaprio and Deniro because their characters are complete opposites and yet they are a constant presence to one another, which makes what Dicaprio has to endure unavoidable.

This is a true human interest story - a film that shows Dicaprio had great acting ability in him, even at a young age. It has Deniro & Barkin together and a superb glance back into the 1950's era.

These are just a few good reasons to consider viewing this movie.
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on January 7, 1999
The first time I saw this movie on TV, I was so touched by the acting ability of the young actor playing the son of single mom. This was long before I had ever heard of Leonardo DiCaprio. I am a die-hard fan of Robert De Niro and try to watch "every" movie he has ever been featured in: what a fantastic actor he is! I truly hated him in this role because he was so mean to "Jack". I have seen the movie three times now and I want to "jump in" to protect this poor child. I am going to buy the video to watch over & over. In my opinion, these two actors will be "legends" like James Dean & Marilyn Monroe, for future generations to come. (My 18-year old son thinks Robert De Niro is the best actor he has ever seen in a movie.) Thanks to these two Wonderful Professionals, I have been totally entertained!
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on April 10, 2004
I am not sure what exactly T.Wolff and Michael Caton Jones wanted to say by the movie. Perhaps my understanding would be somewhat different, but my vision is that reducing it to a simple family violence story does not reveal the real drama. The movie is a desperate attempt to get out of this town, this social environment, it's a challenge to predestination. The whole town itself, Tobbias friends, abusive father in law are nothing more than decorations, cover images. They simply personify and represent what would have happened to Tobbias and his life had he decided to stay.
Great Movie and one of DiCaprio's best works !!!
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on July 15, 2000
As a De Niro fan, I guess I should never say this, but I'm going to say (write) it anyway: Leo di Caprio steals the picture here! Only in "What's eating Gilbert Grape" have I seen him giving such an absolutely stunning performance, stealing the picture to Johnny Depp, another great actor that I admire.
"This boy's life" is certainly not a milestone in De Niro's career. In fact this movie closed somehow a period during which he has made a string of mediocre movies, such as "Guilty by Suspicion", "Backdraft", "Capefear", "Mistress" and "Night and the City", and he went on later to give stunning performances in great movies such as "Heat", "Casino" and "Sleepers". Although I like De Niro and di Caprio, to me "This boy's life" is just a watchable movie. The best thing this movie brought to the audience is di Caprio who, I'm sure, will certainly give other remarkable performances throughout his long and, I hope, illustrious career.
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on November 8, 2003
Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Barkin, and Robert De Niro star in the drama "This Boy's Life" about the true life of Tobias Woolf. This highly dramatic movie contains many shocking scenes that may become eye openers to some. Such intensity keeps the audience closely watching every second. The extreme of it forces the audience to feel what every character feels. More than just the excellent screenplay writing acts out this task. The cast and crew brilliantly perform their roles.
Every actor assists with the audience impacts with their wonderful performances. No one holds back a drop of emotion from their characters. Robert De Niro wonderfully plays a child abuser. Though few will like the character, he'll be remembered by many. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Barkin brilliantly play the victims. This is more noticable in DiCaprio because the cruelty hits him the hardest. His closely-breaking-down parts are performed realisticly.
"This Boy's Life" is the movie for those who are looking for a power drama. Its impact will never be forgotten by anyone. Anyone who watches this movie will be entertained.
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on April 24, 2011
I watched this movie again today and I continue to believe that this is really one of the best Robert Di Niro movies of all time. And that says a lot because he has been in so many good ones. But his acting here is so incredibly good. His Canadian sounding accent is so great. His ability to contort his facial expressions to match almost any circumstance is masterful. The movie is based on a true story of Tobias Wolff and how he grew up in a small town called Concrete and lived with his mom and his abusive father. The abuse was both physical and mental and in the end he is able to get out of town thanks to his ability to game the system somewhat and get into college. I highly recommend this movie. To top it off--you also get the opportunity to watch a very young Leo Di Caprio playing Tobias in a very high quality way.
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