Top positive review
82 people found this helpful
Stark but hopeful
on 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.