Basically, Radio Flyer is a story with two main themes: the horrors of child abuse and the seemingly inevitable loss of innocence and imagination. Mike (Elijah Wood) and Bobby (Joseph Mazzello) are moved to a new town with their mother Mary (Lorraine Bracco) who meets "The King" (Adam Baldwin). It isn't long before The King moves in with the three and begins taking his frustrations out on young Bobby. Mike does his best to try and protect his little brother, but has promised Bobby he would not tell. So, in the hopes of saving his little brother, Mike comes up with "The Big Idea".
Both Mazzello and Wood do a fantabulous job playing the young brothers. Their acting is superb and Mazzello plays the part of an abused child in a fashion that could put most adult actors to shame. It's just too bad we don't see much of this young actor any longer. Wood is equally good, but he's always been a fantastic child actor and has proven himself once again in Radio Flyer.
You don't see much of Bracco throughout the movie, but I think that was rather the point: a single, working mother who wasn't home much. Quite possibly this is how she "missed" much of what was happening to her son(s). Even when she does discover, however, you go from being proud of her for protecting her children to hating her for allowing The King back into their lives. I didn't find this unrealistic in the least. This happens all too often, unfortunately.
The part of The King was done well although you didn't see much of the actor himself. The direction in scenes with the King is incredible...never really truly showing his face. This made him much more menacing and also allowed the audience to view him through more child-like eyes.
I've read that not a lot of people found this movie to be realistic. I disagree entirely. The fact that Mike was not abused while Bobby was isn't all that uncommon. Many abusers prey on the weakest, and undoubtedly Bobby was the "weaker" of the two brothers. Furthermore, many abusers also go after those that are less likely to tell. Mike probably would have said something, and would have if not for the promise he made to Bobby. As far as the ending, granted, if you took it at face value without any thought, not only are you going to miss the point entirely, but of course you're going to end up thinking the movie is entirely unrealistic and full of "fluff".
My take on the ending: I do not believe that Mike was an only child and Bobby was his imaginary friend or the personification of his "inner self". While I find that a valid argument, to me it simply didn't fit in with the movie itself. The older Mike (Tom Hanks) mentions Bobby to his young sons and I doubt that would be done had Bobby never really existed. Furthermore, the King would not have been arrested that last time at the wishing spot (thus the end of "Bobby the inner child") due to the fact that he hadn't yet done anything (at least not since the LAST time he was arrested). Sure, he was about to, but he'd not have been arrested for "thinking about hitting" the boys. Nevertheless, I believe that Bobby truly existed and was killed by The King. As far as the movie goes, Mike did everything his young mind could think of in order to save Bobby. He kept him out all day, made the "monster repellent" and yes, I believe he tried to make the Radio Flyer really fly. However, before Mike had a chance to get Bobby to safety, The King killed Bobby. It was easier for his young mind to believe that he got Bobby away and Bobby was OK. As for the postcards, it's not unthinkable that those were written by Mike as a way to enforce his belief that his brother was still alive.
As the older Mike said "At least that's how I choose to remember it". That was a huge clue that Bobby ended up dying and Mike simply couldn't handle the guilt that he couldn't save his little brother.
Overall, I give the movie a 9/10. Although it touches on a horrible subject, it is done with tact and in such a way that even younger kids can watch the movie. Highly recommended.
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