This Boy’s Life * * * * 1/2
Director: Michael Caton-Jones.
Screenplay: Robert Getchell.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Ellen Barkin, Jonah Blechman, Eliza Dushku, Chris Cooper, Carla Gugino, Zack Ansley, Tracey Ellis, Kathy Kinney, Gerit Graham, Tobey Maguire.
Before the heights of stardom, a young Leonardo DiCaprio built his name with this coming-of-age tale based on the real life memoirs of writer Tobias Wolff. On this evidence it’s easy to see why his talents couldn’t be ignored.
Caroline (Ellen Barkin) drifts from State to State and boyfriend to boyfriend, dragging her now teenage son Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) along with her. Finally it seems she may have met the man of her dreams, in the shape of Dwight (Robert DeNiro). After excitedly making plans to stay this time and begin a new life, it becomes apparent they were a little swift to judge as Dwight’s gentlemanly facade begins to slide, revealing his true nature.
Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones (“Rob Roy”) shows he has an excellent eye for detail in small town America and an even better eye for talent in discovering Leonardo DiCaprio. His performance here is nothing short of astounding and when pitted against the likes of Robert DeNiro, you kind of have to be on your game. Not only is DiCaprio on top of his game for such a young age, he matches – if not betters – the legendary actor. His portrayal of Toby is heartfelt and extremely emotional. Ranging from desperation and capitulation to courage and triumph. He displays a myriad of emotions as a misunderstood and frustrated young man, with sudden bursts of violence and a rebellious nature, to an eventual inner strength and maturity. His performance is helped no-end by the chemistry he shares with DeNiro. They both play off one another powerfully. DeNiro offering another skillfully nuanced addition to his canon of dysfunctional and abusive characters throughout his illustrious career. You can almost feel the jealous rage that consumes Dwight, a very physical and psychologically abusive man. The verbal and mental jousting between both actors is raw and highly charged, eventually culminating into physical brutality with a fight scene that looks entirely realistic. Two wonderful actors delivering powerhouse performances. Unfortunately, despite her obvious talents, Ellen Barkin is left caught between the two male leads with a very underwritten role. However, she’s no slouch and still manages a show of strength in her character as well as a vulnerability. This is an absolutely harrowing and absorbing true life story with a perfectly rendered 1950’s setting and a fine supporting cast that deserves far more recognition than it’s
With two indefatigable and energetic lead performances it’s easy to see why Robert DeNiro is regarded as the greatest screen actor of his time and why DiCaprio became a star and may yet follow in the legend’s footsteps.