Young Walter (Haley Joel Osment) is a burden on his single mother Mae (Kyra Sedgwick). It's not that she doesn't care for him, she just cares for herself more, and it's hard to get hitched with a kid in tow. She decides that Walter should spend a week or two in the care of his crazy old uncles Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duval), who live in a rundown old farmhouse in Texas. Walter is a weak and timid child, used to being lied to and let down by his wandering mother, and Garth and Hub are less than enthusiastic at having an unwanted nephew dumped on them. It's not long however before a bond starts to form between the grumpy old men and the timid teenager, and Walter marvels at the fanciful stories his uncles tell, of their North African adventures. Princesses, Arab sheiks, and fortunes in gold pieces. Garth and Hubs thirst for action and the unconventional has never died, but they feel old and useless, having outlived their time. They feel as displaced from society in their own way as Walter. It is through this shared experience that Walter learns to have belief that he has a place in life, and whether his uncles stories are true or not, what is important is that you have belief, trust and faith.
With his directorial debut in feature films Tim McCanlies has produced a sincere and heart warming family drama that ranks with some of the best coming of age movies I have seen (a list topped by Stand By Me). The script tackles such weighty issues as single mothers, teenage growing pains, and death but with such a well written script (credit McCanlies again) that they seamlessly blend into the warmth and humour of the onscreen relationship between the three leads. Duval and Caine are both on top form as the grumpy brothers with a mysterious past, with only Caine's attempts at a Texan drawl (via the East End) proving a weak spot. It is fair to say though that the acting honours definitely go to Osment who has developed an enviable filmography despite his tender years. Watching his character grow from a gangling, apprehensive boy with a look of a young Stan Laurel, to the confident young man by the end of the summer shows the level of maturity that Osment brings to the role.
Secondhand Lions is a movie you can watch with the whole family from 6 to 60 and all will enjoy it. It has humour, action and strong emotion. It is beautifully shot in the expansive Texan countryside and has a melodic and rousing score. A thoroughly enjoyable piece.
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