My wife and I went to see this film last Wednesday, but I wanted to wait until I had a chance to peruse the “critical” reviews before I opined myself. The critics were, as I suspected, critical. Most were pretty mild, objecting to Haley Joel Osmet’s performance (which I considered excellent) or script weakness (“…those who can’t teach, criticise.”) but some, unsurprisingly, were just WAY off the mark.
Warning: This contains spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film, STOP READING NOW
Consider, for example, Wesley Morris’s Boston Globe review:
The film reenacts these episodes as cartoonish cliffhangers, with a young Hub and Garth foiling anonymous but craven Moroccans. Written and directed by Tim McCanlies, “Secondhand Lions” is made from a child’s perspective, but its point of view has a glass eye. While handsome Americans come to the rescue of a beautiful Moroccan damsel, the Moroccan men are presented as swarthy caricatures of Arab danger.
That’s uncomfortably retrograde. Fine, the flashbacks are set in the silent era, but must the movie’s mind-set follow suit? Kids might not ask if all Arabs clean their teeth with machetes, but it’s a parent’s duty to inform them that given the option most would probably choose a toothbrush. The movie tries to clear things up with a conversation in the final minutes that involves Josh Lucas playing a grown-up Walter, but it’s the images that linger.
In your mind maybe. Uh, Wesley? The story is being told to a fifteen year-old boy. Those images are IN HIS HEAD. You expect anything other than cartoonish stereotypes? Wesley’s problem is that this piece isn’t PC enough for him.
Steven D. Greydanus of Decentfilms.com said this:
There’s a key scene in Lions in which Walter tells Uncle Hub that he doesn’t know what to believe any more and wants the truth. Here is Uncle Hub’s regrettably quotable response: “If you want to believe in something, then believe in it! Just because something isn’t true, that’s no reason you can’t believe in it!” Uncle Hub then goes on to list some ideals he thinks are worth believing in whether they’re true or not: that honor and virtue, not money and power, are what really matter; that good always triumphs over evil; that true love never dies.
Now, the fact is that there is truth to all these propositions, depending on how they are understood. I can even appreciate, in a sense, someone like Uncle Hub having the will to recognize the value of these ideals despite not being in an epistemological position to affirm their truth.
Nevertheless, expressed this way, this is bogus sentimentality, not belief or faith — and this notion casts a long shadow over the rest of the film. Even a revelation that goes some way toward mitigating potentially problematic implications in this regard feels less than entirely earned, like more sentimentality on the part of the filmmaker. Like Hub, McCanlies’s heart is in the right place, but his head could use a little straightening out.
Earth to Greydanus: That was Hub explaining the “Hub Philosophy of Life,” not the Greydanus philosophy of life. I didn’t expect the man to be Plato, and the movie wasn’t about the “rightness” of the way Hub and Garth lead their lives.
The one thing I was surprised to see was no mass condemnation of the massive use of firearms in the film – especially the scene where Haley Joel Osmet’s character is in the cornfield with the lion, and Hub, Garth, four teenaged boys, and the despised relatives – including the children – all come out of the house armed to the teeth to “save” him.
Anyway, I greatly enjoyed the film but will admit that it was not as good as it might have been. Highly recommended, though. Especially if you’ve never gone fishing with a 12-gauge.
(Disclosure: I worked in a movie theater in high school, and ever since I’ve really enjoyed the movies and the big-screen theater experience. Consequently, I see probably thirty or so first-run movies a year, and go to enjoy them not criticise them.)