One of the greatest roles of Leonardo DiCaprio as a kid, was the one of Tobias Wolff, in a cinematographic adaptation of the author’s memoirs; This Boy’s Life. His performance, literally gave life to the pretty monotonous movie, that seemed unfinished, or missing pieces.
The actors are all outstanding, and we can’t reproach them anything. The real problem is coming from the mechanism of change: from book to film. Director Michael Caton-Jones, chose to focus on the relationship mother/son plus external father figure appearance. Indeed, it is the story of a boy who never had the opportunity to live with his rich father, nor his brother, but rather had to stuck to his mother, the brilliant Ellen Barkin, and saw her being mistreated by her boyfriends, while living modestly. He wanted to escape this kind of life, taking as models his non existent male figures, trying to do great in his studies and build his future professional life. However he had this tendency to fall into some vicious circles of quaint youth, and not caring about school. And this came simultaneously with the arrival of Dwight Hansen, his mother’s new lover.
His extreme behavior, mixing continuous anger and feeling of inferiority, pushed Tobias to seek for rebellion and for a total detachment from reality.
He wanted to be called Jack, a more boyish name, tougher, reminding those adventurers, brave and strong, and element, paradoxically put with his ambiguous relationship with another boy. He was hanging out with a bunch of thugs, smoking, and acting really immature, but also joining the Scouts. He hated Dwight but was getting closer and closer to him, behaviorally speaking, as being his daily and only father image.
However, the movie stays moving, recalling the importance of family bonds. And each characters brought a special asset, helping shaping a good film. DiCaprio was a talented kid at that time, and his talent never stopped rising.