Movie Review

 

Secondhand Lions

Secondhand Lions
 
Production Company: New Line Cinema
Director: Tim McCanlies
Principals: Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osment
Rating: PG (thematic material, language and action violence)

By Gregg Tubbs

(UMC.org) -- WANTED: Moviegoers who are willing to believe in things unseen, the indomitable human spirit and that true love never dies. Cynics, the terminally hip and the just plain cranky need not apply.

Secondhand Lions
Secondhand Lions is set in the early 1960’s, on a scrubby Texas ranch, as barren and foreboding as its owners, the McCann brothers, Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall). Van Redin © 2003 New Line Productions
Secondhand Lions is the warm-hearted new comedy by writer/director Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant). This sweet, sometimes corny, but ultimately rewarding film asks you to leave your skepticism at the theatre door and wear your heart on your sleeve, at least until the closing credits. And if you can – you’ll be touched.

Secondhand Lions is set in the early 1960’s, on a scrubby Texas ranch, as barren and foreboding as its owners, the McCann brothers, Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall). Their mysterious past has yielded only two certain facts: that they’ve returned after vanishing for 40 years, and they have a fortune hidden on the ranch. These facts generate wild rumors about their past exploits, and attract a steady stream of traveling salesmen and greedy relatives. The irascible brothers simply disperse these unwanted guests with a few well-aimed blasts from their ever-present shotguns – sending them back down the long dirt drive that’s dotted with signs warning “Trespassers Will be Shot!” “Do Not Enter” is a message that refers to their property and their hearts.

Secondhand Lions
May tells Walter he’s going to stay with his great uncles while she goes to school, promising she’ll return, with a new degree and a brighter future for the two of them. Van Redin © 2003 New Line Productions
Unexpectedly, someone does enter – their great nephew Walter (Haley Joel Osment), a pale, bookish boy, who’s been raised by his single mother Mae (Kyra Sedgewick). She tells him he’s going to stay with his great uncles while she goes to school, promising she’ll return, with a new degree and a brighter future for the two of them. But from the look on Walter’s face, we know that he’s often disappointed by his mother’s empty promises. “And maybe you’ll find out where they stashed all that money!” she adds, just before depositing Walter on the unwelcome doorstep of the uncles he’s never met. As she drives away, Garth, Hub and Walter begin a strange and wonderful summer together that will change their lives.

If you think Lions is in a hurry to turn warm and fuzzy – guess again. Beneath his uncles’ gruff exteriors, Walter finds their equally gruff interiors. But after Garth and Hub discover that Walter’s presence seems to repel other meddling relatives, they decide he’s worth keeping around. They also begin to open up and regale the boy with swashbuckling tales of their own youth that include the French Foreign Legion, African safaris and collecting a fortune in reward money from an evil one-eyed sultan. As Walter pictures these scenes in his mind, they take on a whimsical, story-book quality that hints at the possibility that such adventures aren’t really possible. Are their stories true? The town folk believe the McCanns stole the money from Al Capone and the police believe they were once bank robbers.

Secondhand Lions
After Garth and Hub discover that Walter’s presence seems to repel other meddling relatives, they decide he’s worth keeping around. Van Redin © 2003 New Line Productions
What should Walter believe? This is where the film confronts some of its major themes: what you choose to believe in and what you choose to stand for. When Walter confronts Hub for the truth, Hub replies with part of his famous speech “What Every Boy Needs to Know About Being a Man.” Hub has used this speech to impart wisdom and values to young men for decades. “Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most,” advises Hub. “That people are basically good. That honor virtue and courage mean everything; that money and power mean nothing.  That good always triumphs over evil. That true love never dies. Doesn’t matter if they’re true or not.  A man should believe in those things anyway. Because they are the things worth believing.” In the hands of an actor like Duvall, this bit of “the speech” is worth the price of admission. This teaser leaves Walter – and us – hungry for the rest of the speech, but Hub says that must wait until he’s “almost a man.”

Secondhand Lions is also about growing old and growing up and how the people we love help us find what we need during life’s changes. Walter needs to feel wanted and safe after his mother’s erratic care. Garth and Hub fulfill that need. For his part, he gives the weary and wary old men a purpose and the sense that they are needed by someone. Their youthful nephew also helps them open up to life’s joys and endless possibilities, even for a pair of aging “lions.” And what does the audience get? As I said earlier, if you’re willing to believe, you’ll find yourself moved by the charms of Secondhand Lions.

Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.



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