DiCaprio Verses De Niro
"This Boy's Life" is based on the true story by Tobias Wolff, who endured 5 years of misery under the rule of an over strict stepfather, and as far as I can make out this is a faithful adaptation of his novel. At times "This Boy's Life" is quite disturbing with abuse being dished out to Toby and his mother, especially when you think that these events actually happened. I'm pretty sure that a lot of people would be able to compare their own situation to the one demonstrated in the movie. The whole movie is very powerful and keeps you engrossed through out it's duration. Thankfully in a movie which deals with such a serious subject, there are some light hearted moments which help to break up the drama.
Life in the late 50's is definitely not very easy for young Toby Wolff (Leonardo DiCaprio - The Departed) and his single mum Caroline (Ellen Barkin - Ocean's Thirteen). After splitting from her abusive boyfriend, Caroline packs their bags and moves herself and Toby across country to the Pacific Northwest in search of a new beginning, finally settling in Concrete near Seattle. With only his free spirited mother to give him guidance, Toby becomes a little terror as he falls in with the wrong crowd. When Caroline meets Dwight Hansen (Robert De Niro - Backdraft), a very polite mechanic, things look like they might be finally getting better, especially when Dwight marries Caroline. Unfortunately he is not what he seems to be and life becomes unbearable under his authoritarian rule.
There are two really great performances in "This Boy's Life". Firstly there is Leonardo DiCaprio as the young Toby Wolff. This was DiCaprio's first major role in a movie and he pretty much steals the show. The range of emotions and characteristics that he displays is truly remarkable. In one scene you see this cocky kid who although doesn't have much has a laugh, but later on there is this lonely kid with his spirit broken by the bullying of his stepfather.
Along with DiCaprio is Robert De Niro who plays the authoritarian Dwight Hansen who you may feel that his motives may be good, his methods are totally wrong, as his motto goes "Kill you or cure you". As always with De Niro you get a brilliant performance, I am yet to see a movie where he has a truly bad performance. The scenes between De Niro and DiCaprio are pure magic and really show how much talent they both possess. Although Ellen Barkin puts in a brilliant performance as Caroline, she is completely over shadowed by her co-stars, which is a shame as she is a very beautiful and talented actress. All in all the performances of all the cast is extremely good.
"This Boy's Life" is directed by Michael Caton-Jones, whose job on this movie must have been made so much easier by not only working with great actors but also the great story. What he has done is to treat this disturbing story with the respect it deserves. It would have been very easy to over visualize the abuse that Dwight dishes out and in doing so would have probably made this movie to uncomfortable to watch. His choice of camera angles really help to show how the characters are feeling. There is a long shot of Toby doing a paper round. All alone, and its dark and cold, it really helps to show the loneliness and darkness of his life. The location of the movie is also very important as it helps to demonstrate how depressing life was growing up in a town where there was nothing for young people to do. It also demonstrates the very traditional views of the town which includes sexism and homophobia, which you could expect for the 50's.
What this all boils down to is that "This Boy's Life" is a very good movie which has a hard hitting story and brilliant performances. Even with such a difficult subject matter, the movie is extremely watch able. Even more than a decade after its release it is still as good as the first time I watched it. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys hard hitting dramas.