ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  tim mccanlies

RATED  -  pg

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  111 minutes

RELEASED  -  19 september 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  new line cinema

OFFICIAL SITE  -  secondhand lions

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $30,000,000
secondhand lions - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from secondhand lions at

buy the dvd from secondhand lions at

a coming-of-age story about a shy, young boy sent by his irresponsible mother to spend the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles in texas.

the film was shot in austin, texas.


picture from secondhand lions

picture from secondhand lions

picture from secondhand lions


three out of four possible stars

Secondhand Lions is a story that will sit well with families and impress some critics (just look at the acting caliber), but it probably won't find universal acclaim because of it never quite gets to the deep end of the pool. Though the narrative and the characters venture out of the shallows every once in a while, you get the feeling that the drama could have been spiced up and that the film could have been a more gripping experience if the stakes had been higher. But this failing doesn't doom the entire film. If anything, the performances by the three lead actors are of a higher caliber that any in the films in current release, and despite the lightweight attitude of the plot, the three of them are all effective emotionally in their respective roles.

Having established himself as an actor with a mind beyond his young years, the growing Haley Joel Osment finds himself in quite distinguished company, and though his character is a jumpy one anyway, Osment the actor doesn't seem to be intimidated by the two acting greats with whom he shares the movie poster. His character's temperament really requires that he be a scared type for most of the film, but this doesn't necessarily make his character a weak one. The mental change he endures over the course of the film is a heartwarming one and that sentiment can probably be carried over into the other character arcs and stories. Each of the characters is extremely likeable, and when the story isn't as intense as it should be, it's the easy-going nature of the characters that allows the audience to retain interest in the picture.

This movie has an extremely family-friendly message, but it's not something the filmmakers seek to stuff down the viewer's throat. Given the fact that both Michael Caine and Robert Duvall could garner awards from reading the back of a cereal box, simply watching their interaction together and with Osment is an entertaining activity. Caine and Duvall are each just as capable of acting with their bodies as they are with their voices. A viewer really gets the full package when he or she gets to see one of these talented people perform on screen. But a film cannot be considered a complete success solely on the basis of good acting. What makes a film an engaging experience is seeing a group of characters have to find their way out of a potentially harmful situation.

And though Secondhand Lions has a few of those important moments, it feels too often that the film is a decaf version of what should have been a strong cup of coffee. The welcome sense of humor displayed by Caine and Duvall could easily have remained in the picture even if the screenplay had taken the viewer in a more serious direction at times. In fact, the humor might have been even funnier had the dramatic moments had more spice. It's still hard to condemn this picture completely though because of its dramatic faults. And they're not really even faults. The drama that is present in Secondhand Lions is effective, but it just doesn't show its face often enough.

Given that elements such as the musical score (by composing veteran, Patrick Doyle) and the cinematography (by director of photography, Jack Green) are both sweeping and beautiful in nature, the only real fault with the film lies with the screenplay. Which is ironic, given that the writer and director are one in the same. Conducting the elements of cinematography, music, performance, and editing together into a finely tuned whole seems to have been Tim McCanlies' forte, but he just didn't dig deep enough as far as the screenplay was concerned. That's not to say that what ended up on the screen was not well written. No complaints can be made about the dialogue or characters (probably due much to the abilities of the actors), but the intensity that should have been present over the entire course of the film was missing.

It's not an easy task to criticize a picture that, in essence, has only one real fault, but since that fault is such a glaring one, it's something that keeps this film from being four stars. This idea seems to have had endless potential (the plot being quite an ingenious one), but somewhere in the filming process, the drama faltered and the end result wasn't quite up to snuff. What redeems the movie is the fact that absolutely everything else about it is top notch. Acting, cinematography, editing, score, set design, costume, it's all there in spades. And if the screenplay had just showed more fire and energy, this film could have been the best of the year. As it stands currently, it is certainly a better film than the majority of 2003 releases. It's a film worthy of your time and worth the price of the ticket for admission.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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