Secondhand Lions is not quite a “meet ‘em and move on” movie, but it’s as close as you can get, complete with quirky scenarios, flashbacks, and a heartwarming ending. In many ways, it is a counterpart to the Tim Burton film Big Fish from the same year, which was also about eccentric stories that strained credulity. Unlike that film, in which a son was sick of his narcissistic father’s oft-repeated yarns (which is certainly relatable for many people), here Walter has never heard his uncles’ anecdotes and has to coax them to reveal their colorful pasts, making them more humble and likable than Albert Finney’s character in Big Fish.
The two uncles are brilliantly portrayed by Robert Duvall (Hub) and Michael Caine (Garth), and the latter covers his distinctive British accent amazingly well. The duo play off each other expertly, and their gradual embracing of Walter as their ward is a pleasure to watch. Walter himself, played by the formerly great Haley Joel Osment, is entirely sympathetic, though it’s puzzling why he has any fondness for his cheating, lying, egocentric mother (Kyra Sedgwick).
The film makes the rather wishy-washy statement, “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most,” but, after years of his mother’s infidelity, Walter needs something to believe in and trust. His mother lies constantly yet somehow assumes he’ll believe her, though she’s given him plenty of reasons to not trust a word she says. In contrast, his uncles don’t expect him to accept their tales of the glory days but have never given him cause to doubt them. By the end, when he is forced to decide which narrative to believe, both of which are certainly plausible, he chooses right, a determination that shapes the rest of his life.
The secluded desert location causes the main plot to feel small and withdrawn, making the swash-buckling flashbacks carry a completely different tone that captures the audience’s imaginations along with Walter’s. Secondhand Lions was somewhat of a sleeper film that didn’t get the attention it deserved upon its release, but it holds a wealth of humor, drama, and heart that few films offer nowadays. (The reversed meaning of a sign as Walter leaves his uncles’ property is a good example of the understated poignancy the film conjures.) While Big Fish had too many fanciful elements that bordered on lies themselves, Secondhand Lions is grounded mostly in reality, a reality in which two cantankerous old men turn out to be surprising role models.
Best line: (Hub, when a young punk doesn’t show him due respect) “I’m Hub McCann. I’ve fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I’ve seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I’ve won and lost a dozen fortunes, killed many men, and loved only one woman with a passion a flea like you could never begin to understand. That’s who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!”Artistry: 7 Characters/Actors: 9 Entertainment: 9 Visual Effects: 7 Originality: 8 Watchability: 8 TOTAL: 48 out of 60
Next: #138 – Extraordinary Measures
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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