Walter is used to his mom’s many lies
And isn’t too thrilled with her latest surprise,
A stay with his uncles, two old, surly guys.
The two McCann brothers are said to be rich
But live all alone in their ramshackle niche
And like shooting salesmen before they can pitch.
Both Hub and Garth let Walter share their address,
Because they enjoy other relatives less,
And such money-grubbers just serve to depress.
When Walter sees Hub out sleep-walking at night,
Garth tells him their past, full of romance and fight,
Such colorful tales that amuse and excite.
Garth tells him of Jasmine, of whom Hub won’t speak,
And how Hub enthralled her, so fair and unique,
And how he defended against a mean sheik.
Hub has no delusions about getting old
And seeks out new methods to prove himself bold,
Things all of those salesmen are glad to see sold.
When they buy a lioness too tame to kill,
It’s Walter that cares for her out of goodwill
And lets her live out in a cornfield they till.
He learns from old Hub of his fabled love’s fate
And gets him to not be so risky but wait
And give him a lecture at some future date.
When Walter’s mom shows up with her latest flame,
The uncles’ stashed cash as their ultimate aim,
The lioness makes the beau sorry he came.
Since Walter’s mom can’t stop the lies she’s used to,
He stays with his uncles, who raise him and who,
As he confirms later, are reckless but true.

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

189 Followers and Counting