With a career that has seen him work with the likes of Scorsese, Nolan and Cameron (James, not David), Leonardo DiCaprio was once a young teen who just happened to get the chance to star alongside the Taxi Driver himself. Set in the late 1950’s, This Boy’s Life follows DiCaprio’s disheartened teen Tobias (Jack) Wolff. Based on the story written by Wolff, the film has heart and draws a convincing picture of 50’s America.
We’re introduced to Wolff and his mother Caroline (Ellen Barkin) as they flee from an abusive boyfriend. Far from instilling fear and adding an oppressive tone to the opening of the film, their journey is a happy one. The two sing along to radio tunes and make ambitious plans for the future. Despite the woes life brings the pair their hope is unwavering and, when Caroline finds her hopes of discovering Uranium dashed, she continues to pursue her dreams.
The hope the two share is jeopardised not only by Wolff’s delinquency but also by the appearance of Dwight (Robert De Niro). Outwardly charming, the Concrete citizen (a town as inspiring as its name) slowly suffocates Wolff’s life. His totalitarian lifestyle soon rears its ugly head and Wolff finds himself being forced to engage in activities he has no interest in, work a job that he receives no money for whilst his mother finds herself unloved and victim to some strict bedroom rules.
Director Michael Caton-Jones portrays the story well and makes great use of the talent available. The friction between DiCaprio and De Niro is tantalising and well constructed whilst the unspoken misogynism is played artfully by Barkin. This Boy’s Life deals with its contents effectively and makes interesting statements on the social prejudices alive at the time.
Despite the varied assaults on their optimism, both Wolff and his mother maintain their hope. Wolff applies for scholarships that will rescue him from the clutches of Concrete whilst his mother never relinquishes her hope. This Boy’s Life is an absorbing tale of fight, flight and growing up that features the usual high standard performances expected from the talented cast.
Best performance: Leonardo DiCaprio.