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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. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

In the 1950s, Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his mom, Caroline (Ellen Barkin), move to the state of Washington. There they meet mild-mannered Dwight (Robert De Niro), who falls in love with Caroline. They're married, and, after some initial happiness in the household, it becomes apparent that Dwight believes violence is the best way to discipline his troubled stepson. Unfortunately, Caroline is unwilling to give up on her marriage. As Dwight's abuse intensifies, Toby plans an escape.

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Critic Reviews for This Boy's Life

All Critics (37) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (28) | Rotten (9)

  • The beauty of This Boy's Life is in the details: this meticulously observed story gets the look of the late '50s down pat and, more important, captures the dissonance between the era's ideals of nuclear-family life and painfully deracinated reality.

    January 29, 2019 | Full Review…
  • Quote not available.

    September 7, 2011 | Rating: C | Full Review…
  • 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.

    February 8, 2010 | Full Review…
  • The leads work overtime to make their characters and their relationships pungent, believable, and moving.

    February 8, 2010 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    February 8, 2010 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Nicely acted but excessively bland.

    June 3, 2008

Audience Reviews for This Boy's Life

  • Aug 01, 2011
    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 W Super Reviewer
  • May 14, 2011
    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 Super Reviewer
  • Jan 24, 2011
    Editing could be tighter. Still, the story is compelling, as are the characters, thanks to their excellent chemistry and well-done potrayals. Seriously, 16 and DiCaprio still makes a killing? How? As for De Niro, I think I can see the notoriety. Really, there's not much to say about the movie, but it's still really worth checking out, especially when you wanna see one of DiCaprio's first steps to success. Also, what's with all the smoking? Was there anyone not smoking? I think I saw a squirrel taking a drag in the background.
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Dec 22, 2010
    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 J Super Reviewer

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