The power of Tim McCanlies’ romantic tale, “Secondhand Lions” is in his understanding of boys and their longings.  Many teenagers come to puberty disappointed in both themselves and their families.  Dreaming of a different life, they fantasize such events as being adopted by rich uncles, who not only were brave mercenaries who fought in foreign wars and are hiding a treasure, but who can also teach them how to become a man.  This is what happens to Walter (Haley Joel Osment).

      The only son of a single mom whose own longing for love has taken her into deceitful and abusive relationships, Walter’s teen years enter a whole new stage when she decides to leave him for the summer with two great-uncles, Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall).  Not notifying them of her visit or intentions, she drives to their isolated Texas farm and deposits Walter into their reluctant care.  It is the beginning of unexpected adventures.

      With neither uncle having raised children, they are not the most nurturing of guardians.  Sending Walter into a scary tower to sleep in their dilapidated farmhouse, they offer little support or understanding.  But their inexperience belies their good hearts and solid values.

      Although other relatives attempt to manipulate the uncles into naming them in their will, Walter is looking for something far more important from them: he is looking for a father’s care.

      When Walter discovers that Uncle Hub sleepwalks because of his deep longing for the lost love of his wife, a beautiful exotic princess named Jasmine (Emmanuelle Vaugier), he follows him to their little pond and watches as he fights imaginary enemies with his plunging sword.  Realizing that his uncle is searching for someone, he is told the story when Uncle Garth joins him in the starry night.

      Hub, he explains, has more courage than twenty men and had served in the French Foreign Legion after he and Garth were shanghaied and taken to North Africa.  Becoming an experienced soldier, Hub rescues Jasmine, falls in love and must fight an evil Sheik (Adam Ozturk) for her hand in marriage.  This romantic tale is ended when she dies in childbirth and leaves Hub to spend the next forty years fighting with a broken heart.

      Asking Hub to give him the speech, Walter is given the guidance his soul longs to have.  Courage, integrity and faithfulness to true love are all woven together with guns and treasures and adventures to come.

      When Hub wants to give Garth a gift of once more hunting an African lion, they purchase one only to discover that it is old and tired, ready to die.  But they also discover that the love Walter gives it revives its strength to rise to do protective battle in its parting breath.  It is the same for Garth and Hub.

      The power of the film is that we are never quite sure if this is a Texas tall tale of two old men or whether in fact they had spent forty years in Africa.  But the message is clear when Hub is able to single-handedly defeat four teenagers who want to bully him at the local café and, when they are defeated, he teaches them about manhood and life.  This is a film about what it means to become a man.



  1. When Walter is under the care of his mother and the abusive men she invites into their lives, he longs to know how to protect himself and her.  How do Hub and Garth answer the longing of his heart?
  2. After the scene in the café where Hub is able to defeat four young men, he takes the opportunity to teach them about how to be true men and not the pseudo men they were before.  What do you think Hub included in his speech?
  3. The lion’s presence on the farm is symbolic of lives long-lived in power and now about to end.  What animal or symbol would you choose to describe your life?
  4. The wealth of the uncles came under suspicion because they kept it in hiding in the barn.  Why do you believe they kept it there and how did that impact their reaction to visitors?
  5. In the final scene when we discover the truth about this romantic tale, did you already believe it or not?


Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 3 STARS, WHOLESOME.