|Secondhand Lions (2003)
Starring: Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment
Director: Tim McCanlies
"Secondhand Lions" is a largely uneven film -- it has some wonderfully poignant scenes, which are inexplicably followed by wooden caricatures of dramatic moment. The film is just okay, but because it shows some good heart you want to try to like it.
Haley Joel Osment plays 14-year-old Walter. He has no father and is often neglected by his mother Mae, played by Kyra Sedgwick. Under the guise of attending court stenographer school, Mae dumps Walter off with his two eccentric uncles living in early 1960s rural Texas.
Robert Duvall and Michael Caine play Hub and Garth McCaan, two irascible misanthropes, who spend their days shooting at all the salesman who make their way to the McCaan door. The salesmen keep coming because it is rumored that the McCaans are millionaires and that they either stole their money from an Arabian Sheik or were Mafia hitmen who stole their money from Al Capone.
At first the boy resists this arrangement, and when he runs away and attempts to call his mother at her school, he learns that it was all a lie and that she has abandoned him yet again. The two men track Walter down and convince him to return, and a bond begins to form as Walter learns their history and more importantly learns how to be a man.
Robert Duvall is wonderful, as always, as Hub, the stronger and more dynamic of the two uncles. He takes on all comers, including a group of loud and testosterone fueled teenagers. Duvall provides just the right combination of cantankerous "leave me alone" attitude with feel good cuddliness.
Michael Caine is also good in the thankless role of Garth, the more reflective and thoughtful sidekick to Hub. Osment is at an awkward age now (neither man nor boy) where he is trying to find his voice, and this both works and doesn't for the film. Physically and emotionally he registers the right moves, but at times his line readings demonstrate a juvenile awkwardness beyond that of the character's.
Tim McCanlies wrote and directed the film at a relatively early stage in his career. He has a soft and sentimental touch, which works at times and at other times, does not. The flashback scenes of Garth and Hub fighting the warlords in French Morocco are wooden and unbearably long. They don't ad much to the story and begin to feel like filler.
The two old cudgels' homestead is also filled with a quirky set of animals -- dogs, pigs and even an old broken down lion -- which serve as a metaphor for Garth and Hub. There is a joy here among the animals, and there is a joy in listening to a totally believable Duvall give his speech on "How To Be A Man," and here McCanlies succeeds. He just needs to work out the balance to make a really good film.