This Boy's Life (1993) Poster

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8/10
Absorbing, Shocking Movie
jmorrison-219 July 2002
A highly disturbing film about the violent relationship between a disturbed man, and his adolescent step-son. Remarkable performances from Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio. The desperation and hatred is clearly conveyed by both of them; to the point that it's downright scary.

Deniro's character is so seemingly normal, and yet so menacing and terrifying. Another remarkable acting performance from him.

The taunting of the step-son, and the violent confrontations between the two are ugly, yet mesmerizing. You feel the claustrophobic feeling the boy must have had living in this small town, trapped into this relationship. Some of this is very tough to watch.
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9/10
A remarkably compelling piece of work, with groundbreaking performances by DeNiro and DiCaprio
mattymatt4ever9 February 2002
I heard of this movie before, but I had no knowledge of what it was about, and basically rented it because it looked good and Robert DeNiro is the star--my Number One favorite actor.

Well, DeNiro's performance is one of the high points of the film, and he is extraordinary as the abusive father who seems pleasant and jovial at times, but can turn violent when you push his buttons. Leonardo DiCaprio is also great, in one of the best performances of his career. Over the years, he's been gaining a reputation as a glamour guy. And that he is, but you must see his performance in this movie before regarding him as "just another pretty face." He was still in his early teens (I'm guessing) when he made this film, so this was a long time before he hit it big with "Titanic." Ellen Barkin is also good, but I wish her character could've been developed a little more. I kept wondering, during the course of the film, why she felt like withstanding Dwight's abuse for such a long period of time. In the beginning of the film, she's established as a free spirit--the kind of woman that romances a man, then drives off to another state to find her next man. Well, why didn't she do the same thing with this jerk? The film is based on a true story, so I'm sure she really did stay with him that long, but I just wanted to know her motives.

"This Boy's Life" is a solid, beautifully made slice-of-life that kept me glued to the screen from start to finish. The climax is an emotional powerhouse that made me want to stand up and cheer. Please check out this underrated masterpiece!

My score: 9 (out of 10)
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9/10
A terrific introduction of Leo's talents
Kristine22 February 2006
Robert DeNiro is one of the finest living actors of Hollywood, most of his movies are pure gold, not to mention this fine film "The Boy's Life". He and not too well known at the time Leonardo made a wonderful coming of age story. Toby is a boy who is constantly on the move with his mother. He gets into trouble at school, smokes, and swears, not your straight arrow kid. But when his mother's new boyfriend, Dwight, offers to take him and turn him into a "straight arrow" boy with a good future, he does so. When he and the mother finally marry, Dwight's true colors start to show and not for the good. He's an alcoholic and abusive drunk who will not rest until everyone goes into his ways of thinking. With some other little unknowns like Eliza Dushku and Tobey Maguire, this is a terrific film.

The acting is just incredible. The chemistry that feeds off of Robert and Leo going back and forth of their fights and anger, it's incredible. Leo's talents just shine and I would highly recommend this film if you enjoyed "Stand By Me". What a great movie!

9/10
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Memorable, But Difficult To Watch
ccthemovieman-110 June 2007
This was a very haunting, sometimes very difficult story to watch unfold on screen. It was one of the first films I recollect seeing when I went berserk collecting tons of VHS tapes in the mid-90s. I had never heard of Leonardo DiCaprio, but I'm just I wasn't alone as this was his second or third time on screen. Anyway, he certainly gave a powerful performance and served notice he was going to be a "big name" actor.

Basically, it's about teenage kid and his mom trying to survive the mean father-husband of the family in a small town during the 1950s. Robert De Niro plays the dad and Ellen Barkin, the mom. This may be the only film I've seen in which Barkin actually played the nicest person of the leads!! Leo plays "Tobias Wolffe;" De Niro, "Dwight Hansen" and Barkin, "Caroline Hansen." She had remarried Hansen after having "Toby" earlier, hence the surname "Wolffe."

What made this story tough for me was that, to be honest, neither father nor son were nice guys, although De Niro's character was far worse. The struggles - and that's putting it tactfully - between father and son were really nasty. Yet, as unpleasant at is, the story is memorable and it haunted me for several days, especially since it is "based" on a true story. How much of this was true, I can't say, but it is a dramatic story you will not dismiss. However, watching dysfunctional families and hearing a lot of verbal abuse is not fun, so be warned.
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10/10
"I Know a Thing or Two, About a Thing or Two."
bkoganbing4 August 2005
This Boy's Life was the break out role for Leonardo DiCaprio who proved what a great talent he was in this coming of age film. He had to be to hold his own with Robert DeNiro. DeNiro with his great ear for voices and accents perfectly captures the role of stepfather Dwight Hansen, a man with a terrible inferiority complex who takes it out on his stepson.

The film is based on the memoirs of writer Tobias Wolff as he and his mother endured five years of hell with this very provincial man who is trapped in the small town mentality of Concrete, Washington during the 1950s. The title quote is from DeNiro who repeats that line many times during the film. In fact that's all he does is talk in clichés and it's made abundantly clear that his level of ignorance about the outside world is frightening.

That puts him in contrast with stepson DiCaprio who's a bright kid and capable of going places with some guidance. DeNiro isn't about to provide that guidance, he's just plain jealous of him.

In fact This Boy's Life is similar in that respect to the Tom Cruise film All the Right Moves where Cruise is also trying to escape the drab life he sees in his small Pennsylvania mining town through athletics and meets with jealousy from many around him, but not in his own family circle.

This Boy's Life should be required viewing on the effects of homophobia. In addition to the principal players, DeNiro, DiCaprio, and Ellen Barkin as DiCaprio's mother, credit should go to Jonah Blechman who played gay teen Arthur Gayle. He's got a real lonely existence in Concrete, Washington. Arthur's story is still unfortunately being acted out today in thousands of small town throughout the USA. He gravitates to DiCaprio, not just sexually, but because he recognizes a kindred spirit there.

Among other things DeNiro encourages is homophobia as homosexuality is one of many things he's ignorant about and prefers to remain so. It's quite a scene in which DeNiro encourages DiCaprio to beat up Arthur on any and all occasions.

In fact that's ultimately Dwight's problem. It's maybe ONLY two things that he knows anything about and can converse intelligently on. And he's living in a town full of other Dwights as ignorant as he is.

This is one of the best films of the last decade of the last century and should not be missed.
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9/10
Concrete Is My Hometown
Kelly (hisown)13 July 2004
Although I didn't live there during the time the movie was made I did venture up one afternoon to see what the town looked like as a movie set. Remarkably, the town looked much like I remembered from my childhood in the 60's and it was a nice journey back in time. While living in Arizona ('92-2001) I would frequently watch the movie when I was homesick; I enjoyed seeing my old town, my old schools & the surrounding scenic shots. I am now living back in Concrete and sadly, the town has wasted away to nothing; but with This Boy's Life I can go back for an hour or so to when it was a really great place to live and grow-up. The real-life Dwight has since died (everyone who knew him says he was just like book and movie portrayed him) and his real kids dispute the fact that he was an abusive father. Tobias Wolff is, of course, now a well-known writer but remembered as a nice, fun-loving kid who did pretty well weathering the constant stress at home while growing up. A number of Concrete residents still resent the portrayal of our town as a back-woods redneck community that harbors child-abusers.

Unfortunately, the truth hurts & that description pretty much sums up our little spot on the map. But we do have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, lots of fresh air and no gangs so I guess we are better off than a lot of urban environments. Leo DiCaprio did a great job in his role. Ellen Barkin was memorable but I had a hard time feeling much empathy for her character. DiNiro was - well...DiNiro. Every role he touches becomes gold and this one will shine for a long time. This movie was highly underrated in my opinion (and not just because I was biased) and should have gotten more notice after it's release. You can still see it on the pay channels, occasionally on cable networks and of course, video & DVD. The sets, clothing, and music really do justice to the time. See it and you will never forget it! ***small tidbit: on my trip up to Concrete to visit the set I was happened upon DiNiro, DiCaprio & Barkin filming the scene where they were driving for the first time into Concrete. The local sheriff had closed off the highway until the scene was completed but because I knew the area and side rural roads I sneaked up to a spot where I could videotape the car with the three inside going down the highway. I DID get decent video of DiNiro "driving" the car and was thrilled!
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Leo's movie
Boyo-23 December 1998
The title got it right. This is Leonardo's movie through and through. You can't wait for him to get away from his ineffectual Mother and his Stepfather. Not many young actors could hold their own with DeNiro, but Leonardo succeeds beautifully. See this movie if you still have any doubts about his acting ability; for once, the 12-year-old girls got it right by anointing him the actor of this generation.
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10/10
Blockbuster Rental February, 1999
Marcus-394 March 1999
I liked this film. I was able to relate not only to the young boy, Tobias Wolff, but also the stepfather Dwight. This film brought back memories of myself growing up when I was that age, as well as memories of being an errant father myself raising a son.

After viewing the movie twice, I checked out the book at the library and read it.

I feel that the film followed the storyline of the book quite well. Robert DeNiro did a superb job of protraying Dwight, as did Leonardo DiCaprio protraying Jack.

I recommend viewing this film by anyone who is raising a teenage son, so as to give some insight to the pitfalls that adolescence will challenge a father. Don't wait until after you have already raised your son, as then it is too late to benefit from the knowledge you will gain from this excellent story.
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8/10
A true slice of life
helpless_dancer22 June 1999
This was an excellent tale of what some people's lives are really like. The acting was flawless, the story rang true, and the dialogue was some of the best ever. Barkin was perfect as the man crazy, brainless mother, and De Niro captured the role of a bullying, phoney drunk completely. Men do indeed act like this every day, and women allow them to. Don't miss this one.
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9/10
A splendidly unnerving analysis of family dysfunction
DAVID SIM29 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
When the words This Boy's Life and Based on a true story appeared within the first few seconds of this movie, I was almost tempted to switch off. Because it looked like something I'd seen in many a TV movie. And I hate TV movies. I've got a real personal bias against them. Because they're so predictable. They dot every i. Cross every t. And they're need for sentiment is nauseating. I was expecting very much the same of This Boy's Life.

But then when I saw Robert De Niro's name on the credits, that gave me pause for thought. So I decided to stay with the film a little while longer. And was pleasantly surprised.

This Boy's Life is a quite compelling portrait of a family on the verge of flying apart. There's not only a strong, commanding performance from Robert De Niro, but an impressively assured one from a young (and then unknown) Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio plays Tobias 'Toby' Wolff, a rebellious teen of the 1950s. After heading South with his mother Caroline (Ellen Barkin), they wind up in the charmingly titled Concrete, USA.

Hoping for a fresh start after breaking up with an abusive boyfriend, Caroline gets involved with Dwight Hansen (De Niro). The man is an obvious snake-oil salesman. He flatters Caroline constantly. Dazzling her with the use of a lighter. Complimenting her on her "Java". And Toby sees right through him.

Toby knows Dwight is as useless a father and husband as he is a human being. But Caroline is so desperate to marry into a happier life, that it isn't long before she foolishly gets hitched to him. And that's when the trouble starts.

Dwight is a bully. Pure and simple. He enjoys antagonising Toby. Beating up on him. Hoarding his paper route money away for a rainy day. And all because he's trying to make a man of him. Or so Dwight says.

I suppose This Boy's Life isn't terribly original, nor does it do anything strikingly different with the theme of fractured families. But the performances from the excellent cast goes some way towards making up for that.

When I did see Robert De Niro on the credits, on the one hand it enlivened my original flagging spirits, but on the other I proceeded into the film with caution.

I'd just recently watched De Niro in Cape Fear, a film that contains one of his worst ever performances. A performance so annoyingly over the top, he lost all credibility in the role. Even now, 16 years later I still can't watch that film without cringing.

So it was something of a relief to see him revert to form in This Boy's Life. He (mostly) resists the temptation to go overboard, and thoroughly convinces as an abusive bully.

Dwight is quite fascinating to watch. This is a man who feels terminally put upon. He's the victim here. The one who's been shortchanged throughout all his life. He's been left to raise three kids alone. As well as a stepson. His dreams have never come to fruition. So he sees nothing wrong with thwarting the dreams of those around him. Including Toby's.

In his breakout role, Leonardo DiCaprio works wonders. He brings a superb eagle-eyed maturity to Toby. Interesting considering he doesn't always have that quality in some of his later films. But here he's got this character nailed. The way he rotates from frustrated to rebellious and (rare moments of) happiness is just marvellous.

De Niro is careful too the way he shows to us what a thoroughly reprehensible monster he is. Like the little glance he gives us when he learns Caroline's a better shot than him. And then once they're married, his grip closes like a vice, allowing him to cut loose. He does occasionally lapse into some borderline theatrics, but it doesn't ruin the film the way it did Cape Fear.

The ending is quite satisfying too. The inevitable confrontation between Dwight and Toby. I was half expecting it to devolve into a standard psycho-thriller, but This Boy's Life is too smart for that. It's still quite violent, but its an ending that feels true to life. Dwight's pleas at the end sound so pathetic you feel as much pity for him as you do derision.

This Boy's Life is definitely worthwhile. Its a wonderful showcase of emotion for Leonardo DiCaprio. Shows you what a great actor he can be when given the right material to work with. And its a surprisingly complex portrait of a thug who felt misrepresented all his life.
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6/10
Great acting
AKS-623 February 2000
What is best about "This Boy's Life" is the acting. Don't get me wrong, though, the film in itself is also good; it's rather disturbing when you think about the fact that it is based upon a true story. But the actingÂ… 1993 must be Leonardo DiCaprio's best year as an actor yet, his portrayal of Toby in this film is very good, and he was absolutely sensational in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?". Robert De Niro is also very good in the film, he manages to bring forward the brutal side of his character while he also lets the audience know that Dwight is a very childish man. Ellen Barkin is also good. And it was fun to see Tobey Maguire in an early role as Toby's friend -- I didn't even now that he was supposed to be in the film until there he was! Good film with really impressive acting by the three leads. (6/10)
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10/10
Great Movie
maitai32626 May 2005
This is such a good movie. One of the best acted movies. I liked it the first time watching it, and I loved it, the second time around, many many years later. This movie really makes you empathize with a single parent raising their children, especially the relationship of a single mom and her loving, but rebellious son. This movie really starts when the mom decides to re-marry, and a step dad gets introduced into the picture, and assumes the role of reforming the rebellious son. I completely agree with the other comments on this board - that Robert Dinero gave a super performance in this role, and what amazes me the most, is Leonardo DiCaprio's performance. If this was his only role he ever did, it would be enough to demonstrate his acting ability. Its a wonder why neither of these roles were nominated.
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8/10
Boy and stepfather battle in intense drama
bandw23 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Tobias (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his mother Caroline (Ellen Barkin) are at loose ends after Caroline's divorce. Caroline has the get rich scheme of heading for uranium mining out west. After this and other other ideas fail, Caroline and Tobias wind up in Concrete, Washington (yes, it actually exists) where they are getting desperate. In steps Dwight, a local mechanic. Dwight seems sincere in his courting of Caroline and, since he offers stability and security, Caroline is willing to buy what he is offering by marrying him. After the marriage Dwight's dark side surfaces in the major conflict that develops between him and Tobias. Tobias is no angel, but to me his behavior was no more out of line than that of your typical rebellious youth, whereas Dwight's tyrannical behavior struck me as bordering on the sadistic. The scenes of physical abuse I found hard to watch.

Why Dwight's reaction to Tobias is so extreme is open to speculation. In part I think it comes from Dwight's perception of what it means to be a man--you are the ultimate authority, one who brooks no opposition. Expanding on that theme, Dwight senses that Tobias is not living up to his stereotypical image, for example Tobias likes to read books of all things. In some ways I got the feeling that Dwight's behavior was not all malicious; some small part of him felt for Tobias and he was trying to impose his vision on him as how to deal with the world. However, there is one pivotal scene that said a lot about Dwight to me. While Dwight and Tobias were watching television a news report came on about Lana Turner's daughter Cheryl Crane murdering Turner's boyfriend Johnny Stompanato, on the grounds that he was brutalizing her mother. Crane was acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide. When that last piece of information was mentioned, Dwight looked over at Tobias (who was paying intense attention to the program) with a look that said, "Hmmmm, could this apply to me?" This indicated to me that Dwight knew he had gone over the line in his dealings with Tobias and maybe would pay the ultimate price.

The movie takes place in the late 1950s and period details are inserted in order to make that point: cars, hair styles, clothes, TV, movies, music.

De Niro is good here--I think you have to be a good actor to play such a thoroughly unlikeable bully as Dwight with such convincing realism. It is no small treat to see De Niro dressed in a scout uniform. Barkin is fine, but Caroline moves to deep background once the major struggle between Dwight and Tobias takes center stage. DiCaprio turns in a particularly good performance, being able to hold his own against two experienced actors.

This is billed as a true story, being an accounting of author Tobias Wollf's experiences. I think this should more appropriately be labeled as based on truth, since there are some things that don't ring quite true. For example, the scene that has Tobias running a table saw in shop class at school is wrong. Not even the most inexperienced novice in a wood class would be passing the wood through the saw in the dangerous way that Tobias was. I was cringing just to watch it. And the injury we see he sustains could in no way be caused by the accident as pictured, at the least it would have been more serious. And there was no purpose to what he was doing with the saw to start with. After seeing this I wondered just how well the rest of the movie had been researched. To say that something is a true story is risky--not even most documentaries are without bias. What an author says in an autobiographical text has to be taken with some reservations as to the truth

I am left wanting to read the book, since I am sure the relationships are more complicated than what can be presented here in two hours. We don't get to know Caroline very well, and how Dwight's kids from a previous marriage fit into the family is hardly treated. In particular I wanted to know more about Dwight's relationship with the other kids, especially with his son. More details on Tobias' relationship with the effeminate Arthur would be interesting--how did he square that relationship with his other tough friends? Was Arthur as stereotypically gay as shown?

Overall I found this to be well acted and absorbing. It reminds me of the father/son battle waged in the 1979 movie, "The Great Santini."
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10/10
A coming of age story peppered with child abuse
ashleylynncaissie9 December 2011
This Boys Life A Review by Ashley "I SEE YOUR SPOTS LEOPARD!"

If I were to explain to you what this movie is actually about it would really put you off. It could make you not even want to see the movie. That being said, this movie is a total gem!

It was a boring, hot, sunny afternoon and there was absolutely nothing to watch on television. I was literally flipping through channels when somewhere along the line I decided that a slow paced, uncomfortable, movie about child abuse on Showcase would do. I soon realized that the child being abused was Leonardo DiCaprio and the person doing the abusing was none other than Robert De Niro.

This movie is pretty much non- stop action, and by action I mean child abuse. If you hate Robert De Niro this may not be a good movie for you to watch because it will make you hate him even more. This Boy's Life is an incredibly thorough movie; all the main groups of abuse are represented: emotional, physical, psychological and even financial abuses are present throughout. One of the best scenes is when Robert De Niro crams an old mustard jar into Leonardo DiCaprio's eye to teach him a lesson about wasting condiments.

This movie has it all, sad drunk driving, awkward gay teens and a bulldog!

The sad fact is this movie is actually based on a true story. But, I prefer to forget that and just enjoy the ride.
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9/10
"Hi, Elvis...Elvis...and Elvis"
brujay-122 December 2006
You can't begrudge an actor super-success; that's what they all crave for, if for nothing else, to allow them the luxury of choosing the scripts they want. But nevertheless it's kind of a shame that Leonardo DiCaprio has never been the same since "Titanic." In three of his earlier films--"What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" "The Basketball Diaries," and this one--he had a promise not quite seen since James Dean, whom bad luck prevented from going beyond his own early promise.

DiCaprio is excellent here as a frustrated teen-age stepson to DeNiro's petty and jealous stepfather. (Ellen Barkin holds her own between them, but how quickly she went from a teen bride in "Diner" to a romantic lead in "The Big Easy" to the mother of a teenager in "This Boy's Life"! Hollywood devours actresses.) One forgets how powerless kids are to the parents who keep them fed. Watch DiCaprio trying to play high school basketball in slippery cordovans because DeNiro won't buy him sneakers. Watch his frustration in learning that DeNiro has traded his rifle for a dog he doesn't want. Watch his rebellion in sneaking off in DeNiro's car, singing to the car radio (man, does that bring back memories) and later his attempts at being cool with his buddies. smoking cigarettes and sporting a DA haircut like they do. Watch him in fact throughout.

But for all that, he's not a whit better than DeNiro in this movie. First of all, DeNiro has adopted an accent far removed from his gangster roles, with flat vowels and a whining drawl. And he's not a totally unsympathetic character, just a petty bully with a taste for Perry Como. A final scene where he challenges DiCaprio with a not-quite-empty mustard jar perfectly captures his smallness. And if we haven't already guessed that DeNiro is a supremely disappointed man, it's made clear when DiCaprio finally finagles a prep school scholarship and actually leaves, his mother too. "How about me?" DeNiro shouts at their backs. "When is it my turn?"

A couple of shortcomings: It's never really made clear the relationship between DeNiro and his two daughters by his first marriage. They don't develop at all. And also, there's a brief and unnecessary sex scene between DeNiro and Barkin that shows his minor kink. This scene doesn't appear in Wolff's memoir and shouldn't be here.

Ah, Leo, we knew ye when.
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3/10
We're Not Supposed to Sympathize with Deniro, But I Did
TXastorian22 March 2004
I don't know what Tobias Wolff was really like as an adolescent, but if he was anything like the obnoxious twerp portrayed by Leonardo Dicaprio, then it's no wonder his stepfather hated him and abused him! The little creep was rude to his stepfather, even when it wasn't called for. He even stole his stepfather's car and trashed it, for crying out loud! If Tobias Wolff was really like that, I think Dwight deserves a medal for not killing the brat outright!

Moreover, if you read the epilogue at the end of the film, you'll learn that Tobias Wolff was expelled from the prep school he got himself into, for bad behavior. Gosh, I guess Dwight WASN'T responsible for all of young Tobias' problems. Indeed, it's pretty clear that Wolff was a punk and a troublemaker by nature.

Wolff did everything possible to make Dwight look like a monster and to make himself look like an innocent victim. But somehow, that just doesn't ring true. Clearly, Wolff was quite able to screw up his life without any help from Dwight.
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5/10
What went wrong?
MovieAddict201627 April 2005
A few years ago, when it was cool to hate "Titanic," I picked mercilessly on Leonardo DiCaprio (as all males at the time did). I criticized his performances in every film I saw, mainly "Titanic." Even though I liked the film, if you were a guy and admitted to enjoying it, you were automatically labeled gay.

Over the years I found new respect for DiCaprio as an actor. After I saw him in "Catch Me If You Can" I realized he had a great deal of natural talent and was striving to abandon his "pretty boy" roots. Then I saw "Gangs of New York" and felt he was strangely miscast.

Going back to "This Boy's Life," we catch an early glimpse of DiCaprio and one of his finest performances to date. He is totally convincing in this film, set in the 1950s, based on a true story.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie is not so lucky. The typically reliable Robert De Niro delivers one of his worst performances ever as a crazy kook from Seattle named Dwight, who falls for Toby's (DiCaprio) mother, Caroline, played by Ellen Barkin.

I applaud De Niro's recent ventures into comedy and disagree with the critics who claim he has "sold out." But his performance in "This Boy's Life" is simply unacceptable. It starts out fine enough, and his Seattle accent is impressive. But as the film progresses, he turns into a strange comical character; he is supposed to be scary and intimidating, but he is neither.

I feel the greatest flaw of this film centers around De Niro's character and performance. First of all, Toby (Leo) acts like a jerk. We don't find much sympathy for him. When he falls into the hands of Dwight, we eventually feel a bit of sympathy, but because Dwight never seems very cruel or scary, it's hard even then.

There have been some very good child abuse movies made in the past. "Radio Flyer" was not a great movie by any means, but by portraying child abuse through the eyes of a child and portraying the guilty as a truly cruel human being, it succeeded and made us feel for the boys.

"This Boy's Life" doesn't work because it's a bit too sarcastic, knowing and self-assured. De Niro is not scary. In fact, many times I agreed with his character. He rarely abused Toby (in the film, anyway) and at many times, even though he was drunk, offered good advice.

And the scenes such as the one in which he steals Toby's boy scout outfit aren't upsetting. They're humorous. It's hard to find fear and sympathy for a boy when we're laughing at his plights.

The ending was the icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned. Throughout De Niro had managed to retain some level of dignity and realism, but at the end he just let loose and turned into a screaming, howling, crybaby of a man: obsessive, paranoid and crazy. And he's still not scary, because he's so pathetic that we're laughing at him. And by then, the accent has become so corny, and the dialogue and happy-face gestures so hysterical, that the film totally negates whatever its point was and becomes a half-hearted bittersweet comedy with a great performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and unimpressive elements elsewhere.

Overall, "This Boy's Life" is a mixed bag of a film that doesn't know whether to find sympathy for Tobias Wolff or humor in his situations. If you're a fan of the actors, give it a go; otherwise, I recommend "Radio Flyer."
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5/10
Concrete and Barbed Wire
paul2001sw-18 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Concrete, Washington is the setting for this adaptation of Tobias Woolf's memoir, 'This Boy's Life'; and Robert de Niro is the step-dad from hell, a man incapable of standing any competition in any aspect of life. But it's a fairly standard coming-of-age drama, with a vaguely nostalgic air, heavy on the period details. De Niro's character should be either frightening or funny, but in the end comes across as merely pathetic: the eventual realisation of this by the other characters provides the pivot to the story but unfortunately we, the audience, realise this much sooner than they do. Perhaps the problem is that, 45 years ago, behaviour such as his was normal, so today we struggle to relate to it as people would then: we can't understand why the more "heroic" characters tolerate it. But another part of the problem is that the memoir format hampers the story from living in the here and now: we know the author (played here by Leonardo Di Caprio) survived, and became a famous writer to boot, so it's hard to impart a sense of life or death urgency to what we see; the happy ending after the hardship is booked in advance. Finally, the story's eventual resolution seems semi-random: this may have been how it happened, but when the boy wins a school scholarship there's been little before to indicate that this might happen. The result is a dull tale, which is a shame: with a little more immediacy, and a little less comfortable framing, the struggle between de Niro and di Caprio could have been great.
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Now, I'll read the book.........
Ripshin29 August 2004
Frankly, I almost turned this off several times. First, at the thirty minute mark, then at an hour. While I'm glad I "stuck it out," I still have problems with the performance of Ellen Barkin. I do not understand her character - the motivations. Sure, there is an obvious act of survival, but beyond that, the character is flat. The acting of the other leads, and the set design, are first rate. DiCaprio is excellent.

Being that this is based on fact, I wonder which characters actually existed? Being that Arthur is somewhat of a prominent influence on Toby/Jack - I'd love to know if he is a real person, and what happened to him.
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9/10
Sad but true...I still love it...
Quinn Stuart6 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Leonardo DiCaprio shows off his bad boy side in this film, playing the rebellious teen Tobias Wolff in the late 50's. Toby, or "Jack" as he likes to be called, smokes cigarettes, curses strongly, drinks liquor and hangs out with his naughty friends for fun. He was once that innocent boy who just wanted to find a father that would last longer than a month and searched for Uranium with his mother "Caroline" for money. Roy, Caroline's new boyfriend, is very naughty and just wants kisses from his baby. Caroline and Toby have had enough and drive away in the old Nash Ambassador. Caroline meets a man named Dwight Hanson, who is abusive to Toby behind her back, which only makes Toby worse. I love how they use the nice songs from the 50's like "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran. It's a very nice story based on the book, and like The Basketball Diaries, it leaves out/changes a few things, but otherwise it's one of Leo's best films. At the end, he cries when his mother leaves to get a real job, and Toby grows up to be a better boy. 9/10.
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9/10
A harrowing film that will stay with you for a little while; the acting is incredible in this one
callanvass27 August 2013
Wow. This was a harsh film, but a damn good one at that. What is more amazing about this movie is that it is based on the memoirs of the real Tobias Wolf! It's a true story, and that made it all the more better while viewing this one. I cannot state how unpleasant this movie can be at times. The stuff Jack (Tobias) has to endure is really heart wrenching, and there were a few moments where I actually gasped out loud. It's not very often a movie can grip me with complete astonishment, but this managed to do just that. I give a lot of credit to the ensemble performances. Leo DiCaprio is astonishing for a kid at his age at this juncture. He is solely responsible for taking me on a journey I won't soon forget. He is sympathetic, very vulnerable, and I was able to empathize with him all the way. You will feel desperation when it comes to some of his scenes. Robert DeNiro plays one of the most brazen, and detestable characters I have ever seen. He is often terrifying as Dwight. DeNiro is credited for many amazing roles and rightfully so, but this one is shockingly neglected a lot of the time when it comes to his resume. What a chilling performance! Ellen Barkin is exceptionally good as the clueless, yet likable Mother. She may make you wanna slap her one at times, but you'll lover her for the most part, i'm sure. Eliza Dushku, Tobey Maguire, among others have small roles here.

Final Thoughts: It's a hard film to review without revealing so much. It's a fantastic, if draining experience. If you're in the mood for an excellent heavy drama, I would choose this one without question. It'll stay with you after it is over

9/10
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10/10
Young talent
Crveni Krst14 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
As time goes by, I'm starting to realize how much of a talent Di Caprio was in his youth. I wonder what went wrong... I also ponder upon a question why movies like "This Boy's Life" don't hit the big screen anymore? When did film making become a shallow business with it's only interest in profits.

"This Boy's Life" is anything but a classic Hollywood blockbuster. It's a slice of life presented both in it's best and worst. And life is not like a film either... Being young, smart and trapped in a behindhand environment is tough, often frustrating and inhibiting. It's a first major battle in a war called survival, a battle that would set a young man on it's way and pave the road to his future. Being alone in such a struggle is not easy, and young Toby Wolff would feel it on his skin quite some. Well, maybe not completely alone. Toby's mother tries hard to soldier on in life, and yet, she lacks the energy and will to make that final push. In the absence of a father figure, fourteen year old Tobias endeavors to model himself on his own, fighting not only his inner demons, but also a harsh, inert and primitive surrounding portrayed in the character of Dwigh and the village of Concrete. Will he succeed and break away? It's all in his hands...

The entire cast made a remarkable job - Di Caprio for one, followed by Ellen Barkin and Robert De Niro, as well as rest of the team. A tribute would also deservedly go to all of the technical crew, scriptwriter and director. Even without the real-life reference at the end, it's quite obvious this story was written by life itself, which makes it that special and unique. "This Boy's Life" is a good story well portrayed, and as such it rightfully earns it's 10 points. More flicks like this, please!

This also presents a small jubilee, since it is my 50th review here on IMDb (including the needlessly removed one). Cheers!
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7/10
It was good but could have been better?
nikii_star9230 April 2012
I read the book so many times. Even knew there was a movie about it I had read and re read the book. I loved Tobias Wolff's writing. I think a major reason I didn't like it was because the book had so much to offer. It felt as though there wasn't enough depth in the movie. The movie was good no doubt. I am not a fan of Leonardo Di caprio. However, he did do a good job in this movie. I could think of no one better who could play the role of father as well as Robert De Niro did... Overall it was good and I wouldn't mind watching it again. Though I would prefer reading it again a lot more. Which is a lot for me to say because I do prefer movies a lot more than books. (sorry)
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10/10
This boy's life review
Miles burton26 March 2016
This MIchael-Caton Jones powerful true story Drama gives us a young faced Leonardo DiCaprio starring as 16 year old Tobias Woolf, a troubled young man who is shown by DeNiro that life can be a hard mistress. I thought this film was absolutely brilliant! I really got the impact of this movie, with De Niro being my number 1 favourite actor of all time, and Leonardo being number 2. Every time De Niro is on screen he always creates tension and hatred for his character of Dwight. And always makes you feel sorry for Di Caprio which he also plays brilliantly. With Ellen Barkin caught up in the middle of it all, the film tells us the story of Di Caprio's character Toby Woolf and his trouble with his mums boyfriend (De Niro) with this film being made in 1993, this is when De Niro was at the top of his game as an Actor, and you would think makes it harder for Di Caprio to compete with on screen, but it doesn't. Leonardo competes perfectly within his character, and is just as memorable as De Niro throughout the film, and is somewhat even better on screen, seeing the actor that he has become today. This boy's life is truly a phenomenal masterpiece and is moving at the same time.
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