This Boy's Life (1993)

Biography, Drama
Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Barkin, Jonah Blechman
The story about the relationship between a rebellious 50s teenager and his abusive father, based on the memoirs of writer and literature professor Tobias Wolff.
A harrowing, moving drama about a young boy, his single mother, and his abusive stepfather, This Boy's Life benefits from its terrific cast, and features a breakout performance from a young Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • Warner Home Video Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 09 Apr 1993 Released:
  • 13 May 2003 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Tobias Wolff, Robert Getchell Writer:
  • Michael Caton-Jones Director:
  • N/A Website:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

"I Know a Thing or Two, About a Thing or Two."10/10
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 cliches 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.
Absorbing, Shocking Movie8/10
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.
Concrete Is My Hometown9/10

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!
A terrific introduction of Leo's talents9/10
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
A remarkably compelling piece of work, with groundbreaking performances by DeNiro and DiCaprio9/10

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)