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Thanks to its trio of sterling lead performances, by Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, and Leonardo DiCaprio, this adaptation by writer Robert Getchell (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) and Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones (Scandal) of Tobias Wolff's memoir about growing up with a cruel and bullying stepfather in the 50s mainly triumphs over its own problems with aggressiveness and insecurity—an unnecessary and tiresome pushiness in its use of period songs, some occasional uncertainties and false notes in the dialogue. Like the book, the film aims more for identification with Wolff's plight than for detailed psychological analysis; the leads work overtime to make their characters and their relationships pungent, believable, and moving (though with regard to the rest of the cast, the movie seems less focused and confident).

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