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Heroes of the Zeroes: Secondhand Lions

by on September 22, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Secondhand Lions”
Rated PG
2003

2003’s “Secondhand Lions” contains little flashiness, save for an unexpected helicopter landing. But don’t equate that with a lack of inventiveness. “Lions” forsook the lowbrow sap of a lesser movie in favor of engaging creativity and a message that, through some characters’ tough choices, actually penetrated.

In a narrative stuffed with treasures, none held more value than Robert Duvall and Michael Caine’s acting — Duvall with the flashier speechifying and Caine with his elegant stateliness. Together, by film’s end, each meant something different enough to Haley Joel Osment’s Walter so it didn’t merely feel like one character copied.

They’re his uncles Hub and Garth, whose idea of relaxation is iced tea and shotguns on the porch — the latter for traveling salesmen who never learn. Walter stays with them for what he fears will be a summer of perpetual boredom, but as he uncovers the secret of their inexplicable wealth, internalized adventure takes hold.

Writer/director Tim McCanlies (co-writer of “The Iron Giant”) delivers what feels like a perfectly unified collection of short stories. Through flashbacks lovingly evocative of “The Princess Bride,” Garth recounts his and Hal’s globetrotting adventures. Filmed like serial-matinee swashbucklers, they’re campy but exciting. Whether they’re true is the subject of great debate (albeit with a final answer).

“Secondhand Lions” cranked up its emotional wattage for the resolution, but neither ignored opportunities to elicit big laughs and heart nor made everything pat for everyone. This wonderful family film stressed the importance of imagination as something in which to believe.

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