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This Boy's Life

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In this bastardized video version of Tobias Wolff’s tortured, affecting memoir, the lack of the large, wide-screen images reduces the emotional effects — the feelings of this film are on a big, primal scale. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the screen with his natural appeal as the troubled adolescent Wolff, trapped under the punishing thumb of his alcoholic and abusive stepfather, Dwight. As the controlling, enraged Dwight, who resents other people’s happiness, De Niro does some of his best work, making the character close to a human time bomb. Neither he nor This Boy’s Life ever descends into melodrama. But this extraordinarily fine film would have earned a higher grade if only the small screen didn’t emasculate it. B-