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This Boy's Life (1993)


Average Rating: 6.4/10
Reviews Counted: 36
Fresh: 27
Rotten: 9

Critics Consensus: 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.

Average Rating: 5.1/10
Reviews Counted: 12
Fresh: 5
Rotten: 7

Critics Consensus: 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.


Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 22,374



Movie Info

This Boy's Life is a true-life coming-of-age story about '50s teenager Tobias Wolff (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his mother, Caroline (Ellen Barkin). After travelling around the country in an effort to avoid Caroline's abusive boyfriend, the mother and son settle in Washington state, where she marries a man named Dwight Hansen (Robert DeNiro), who appears to be a good husband and father. However, Dwight reveals himself as an abusive man shortly after the marriage; in particular, he verbally harasses … More

Directed By:
In Theaters:
May 13, 2003
Warner Home Video


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Critic Reviews for This Boy's Life

All Critics (36) | Top Critics (12) | Fresh (27) | Rotten (9) | DVD (3)

Something more subtle is going on in Wolff's book, a confrontation with a richer, quirkier past and his emerging self that the movie too often brushes aside.

Full Review… | February 8, 2010
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

The leads work overtime to make their characters and their relationships pungent, believable, and moving.

Full Review… | February 8, 2010
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Nicely acted but excessively bland.

Full Review… | June 3, 2008
Top Critic

It's a rites-of-passage drama with the kind of period small-town setting that the director is making his own.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

This Boy's Life is so steeped in period detail (music, cars, television shows, hair styles) that Toby and Caroline's sad, bumbling search for freedom seems secondary, almost impolite to the decor.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

An indisputably great actor is inching toward the black hole of self-parody.

May 12, 2001
Rolling Stone
Top Critic

The film demands ominous electricity between Dwight and Toby, the latter of whom endures various and sundry humiliation and harm at the former's hands. And there are times when DiCaprio doesn't just go toe-to-toe with De Niro but feels just as tall.

Full Review… | May 5, 2013

This is powerful and moving stuff.

Full Review… | February 8, 2010
TV Guide's Movie Guide

De Niro and Birkin are reliable in this atmospheric drama, but it's DiCaprio who really shines.

Full Review… | February 8, 2010

A young DiCaprio steals the show in this tale of learning how to be a man, with a sly De Niro also giving a good performance, but with a plot that drags on too long.

Full Review… | February 8, 2010
Empire Magazine

A powerful if familiar family melodrama with a bravura performance from newcomer Leonardo DiCaprio, who's bound to become a major actor in the future.

Full Review… | December 31, 2006

Well acted, but bleak and slow-moving.

June 21, 2005
Movie Metropolis

De Niro does great work here. Highly underrated flick.

April 3, 2005

Outstanding performances from DeNiro and Di Caprio in a tough, lyrical drama

March 24, 2005
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

a compelling character study that is well worth watching just for Dicaprio's performance

Full Review… | October 24, 2003
Old School Reviews

This Boy's Life shows how a resilient teenager survives childhood trauma and adversity through independence, anger and creativity..

Full Review… | May 21, 2003
Spirituality and Practice

DiCaprio goes toe-to-toe with De Niro, though his spectacular efforts here continue to be overshadowed by his Oscar-baiting in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Full Review… | May 11, 2003
Film Freak Central

Leonardo DiCaprio, in his first major role, stole this movie right out from under Robert DeNiro's feet. A great coming-of-age tale based on a very good book.

April 28, 2003
KFOR Channel 4 News

A powerful, moving picture....Di Caprio and De Niro are a solid combination

April 27, 2003

Involving, but not finally effective

August 21, 2002
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Caton-Jones has an extraordinary find in Leonardo DiCaprio, the 17-year-old newcomer who plays Toby with just the right mixture of ingenuous sweetness and simmering anger.

Full Review… | January 9, 2002

Audience Reviews for This Boy's Life


Before the heights of stardom, a young Leonardo DiCaprio built his name with this coming-of-age tale based on the real life memoirs of writer Tobias Wolff. On this evidence it's easy to see why his talents couldn't be ignored.
Caroline (Ellen Barkin) drifts from State to State and boyfriend to boyfriend, dragging her now teenage son Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) along with her. Finally it seems she may have met the man of her dreams, in the shape of Dwight (Robert DeNiro). After excitedly making plans to stay this time and begin a new life, it becomes apparent they were a little swift to judge as Dwight's gentlemanly facade begins to slide, revealing his true nature.
Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones ("Rob Roy") shows he has an excellent eye for detail in small town America and an even better eye for talent in discovering Leonardo DiCaprio. His performance here is nothing short of astounding and when pitted against the likes of Robert DeNiro, you kind of have to be on your game. Not only is DiCaprio on top of his game for such a young age, he matches - if not betters - the legendary actor. His portrayal of Toby is heartfelt and extremely emotional. Ranging from desperation and capitulation to courage and triumph. He displays a myriad of emotions as a misunderstood and frustrated young man, with sudden bursts of violence and a rebellious nature, to an eventual inner strength and maturity. His performance is helped no-end by the chemistry he shares with DeNiro. They both play off one another powerfully. DeNiro offering another skillfully nuanced addition to his canon of dysfunctional and abusive characters throughout his illustrious career. You can almost feel the jealous rage that consumes Dwight, a very physical and psychologically abusive man. The verbal and mental jousting between both actors is raw and highly charged, eventually culminating into physical brutality with a fight scene that looks entirely realistic. Two wonderful actors delivering powerhouse performances. Unfortunately, despite her obvious talents, Ellen Barkin is left caught between the two male leads with a very underwritten role. However, she's no slouch and still manages a show of strength in her character as well as a vulnerability. This is an absolutely harrowing and absorbing true life story with a perfectly rendered 1950's setting and a fine supporting cast that deserves far more recognition than it's recieved.
With two indefatigable and energetic lead performances it's easy to see why Robert DeNiro is regarded as the greatest screen actor of his time and why DiCaprio became a star and may yet follow in the legend's footsteps.

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer


Two acting powerhouses from two generations, a young DiCaprio and De-Niro, locks horns in this gripping movie about a dysfunctional family.
No one watching this movie then would've known that this was the signs of things to come. Years later, DiCaprio have grown in to a similar stature of DeNiro, even replacing him as the as the certain fixture in Scorsese movies.

Sajin P A

Super Reviewer

Tragic childhoods do not always make great or even good movies! I see movies like this and think the movie could just as well be based on my childhood!

Thomas Johnston

Super Reviewer

An amazing film that captures a story of step-father and son like no other. Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio gave such powerful performances and had some of the best on screen chemistry. It is a very realistic film that has very plausible outcomes.

Conner Rainwater

Super Reviewer

This Boy's Life Quotes

Dwight Hansen:
I don't think I flatter myself by saying I'm something of a whiz with a rifle and living in concrete gives me every opportunity to prove that
– Submitted by Troy H (19 months ago)
Dwight Hansen:
Is it empty? Is it empty? Is it empty?Is it empty!
Toby Wolff:
– Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)
Dwight Hansen:
There he is. The guy who thinks he knows everything.
– Submitted by Baurushan J (19 months ago)

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