The Sound of Two Men Roaring. Review of Secondhand Lions

By Kellman, Steven G. | Southern Quarterly, October 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Sound of Two Men Roaring. Review of Secondhand Lions


Kellman, Steven G., Southern Quarterly


The Sound of Two Men Roaring. Review of Secondhand Lions. Written and directed by Tim McCanlies. New Line Cinema, 2003.

If you want to remember the mane, even secondhand lions beat firsthand mice. Walter, a successful cartoonist, will never forget the summer of his fourteenth year, spent with his great uncles Garth and Hub McCann, two mangy old coots who taught a fatherless youngster how to roar. "The last thing we need is some sissy boy hanging around all summer," says Garth (Michael Caine) when Walter's flibbertigibbet mother (Kyra Sedgwick) deposits her timid son with them before heading for Las Vegas in quest of the next in a string of abusive men. Mac's excuse for unloading Walter (Haley Joel Osment) for the summer, that she needs to go to Dallas to study court reporting, is wisely not made under oath. Most of Secondhand Lions is a flashback to Walter's coming-of-age in the ramshackle farmhouse in central Texas (the film was shot in and around Austin) that Garth and Hub called home. By the end of the film, the first for writer-director Tim McCanlies since his debut feature, Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81, Walter is no sissy, and his uncles are more courteous. They cease unloading buckshot at every passing salesman.

When Walter moves in, Garth and Hub have recently returned to rural Texas after an absence of forty years. They might have been bank robbers, Mafia hit men, French Foreign Legionnaires, or inmates in a mental ward. Though they now live in squalor, all accounts agree that the geezers came back rich. While other relatives dig for gold, Walter digs for truth. The story that Garth intermittently tells Walter about his brother's swash-buckling escapades in North Africa constitutes a hyperactive Hollywood serial within a more mellow movie about two men and a boy. Garth's spectacular recollections of his brother's romance with the beautiful Princess Jasmine (Emmanuelle Vaugier) and his defeat of the cunning sheik who tried to steal his love away seem improbable, except that crusty old Hub, played with brio and a shotgun by the wondrous Robert Duvall, still summons enough gumption to thrash four insolent young punks who taunt him at a roadhouse.

"In his day, "says Garth of Hub, "he had more spirit than twenty men. "Hub's day is past, and he must resign himself to sitting on the porch and watching the cornstalks grow. Yet something of the vigorous young adventurer survives in the aging Hub, not simply in his strength and orneriness but also in his unsated longing. Every night, haunted by unresolved memories, Hub sleepwalks out to the edge of a pond. …

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