You know, I never understood what it is that makes film and television portray authors as either murder-solving experts or reclusive curmudgeons angry at their own success. I’ve met a few authors through the years. Seemed nice – they were happy I bought the hardback, and not one of them could tell me what really happened to my Uncle Sean, regardless of the volumes of police reports and raw DNA samples I provided them with. However, despite my letters, the film industry still continues to produce these films, and Eureka Entertainment has released on DVD and Blu-Ray Good Will Hunting (1997)…I mean Finding Forrester (2000).
In inner Bronx, 16 year old Jamal Williams (Rob Brown) is a gifted basketball player who is keeping a dark secret. He’s also a gifted writer. Dared by his friends, Jamal sneaks into the apartment of the local recluse and Boo Radley figure known only as the Window. After leaving his backpack in the apartment, the Window returns it, with corrections and notes made to Jamal’s writing. The Window is William Forrester (Sean Connery), Pulitzer-winning author and hermit who takes Jamal under his wing as his protégé. Things go smoothly until Jamal, who wins a scholarship to an up-class prep-school, comes into conflict with his crusty, bitter English teacher Crawford (F. Murray Abraham).
Finding Forrester is an experiment by Gus Van Sant to make lighting strike twice, following the abomination that was the Psycho remake (1998). Does it work? No, but it comes close.
Like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester tells the story of a young, working-class, self-taught prodigy whose life and work improves after coming into contact with an older father figure and mentor. Sure, the setting, academic discipline, and a couple of the plot points differ, but it’s the same premise at the end. It even has the same romance between two people from different social backgrounds, and the uplifting letter between the two lead characters at the end with its “hope-for-the-future” message.
And you know that’s not a bad thing; Good Will Hunting was a good movie, and if Van Sant wanted to stick to what he knew, then fair play to him. That said, Finding Forrester suffers from the same problem: the presentation of class and social background. I’m not going to jump on my high horse and go on a tangent here about the film makers not understanding the plight of the Proletariat, but they do have some strange ideas about intellectual capability; presenting the idea of someone with a genius level intellect as something almost unheard of among us homo-plebeians.
In Finding Forrester on the other hand, it’s far more prevalent, or rather, it seems that way. Good Will Hunting was able to hide behind a stellar performances, and the development of three dimensional characters with their own arcs and motivation. I’m not saying that this isn’t in Finding Forrester, it’s just focused on one character: Forrester. Jamal’s move to a better school and the difficulties that come with it don’t change him as much as they should; he is more confident, but he also is the same person at the end as he was at the start. Crawford doesn’t go any further than being the nasty teacher that’s jealous of a poor, more talented student, a role Abraham seems determined to keep playing. They’re not bad performances, just the roles lack any real depth. Forrester, on the other hand, goes through a harsh arc for the better and it is a joy to watch Connery act a character with a wider range of emotions than he has in the past. Forrester is cocksure – he won the Pulitzer – but he’s also weak, vulnerable and there is a lot of room in there to act which Connery does with great gusto.
Van Sant creates his story through the visual as well as the acted. Forrester lives in isolation in a remote building within a bustling city, bestowing wisdom from on high as he chucks Jamal’s backpack down to him. It would be easy to have him in an empty apartment but Van Sant brings that across with his trademark cold colours and low-lighting. He captures the claustrophobic feeling of a recluse entering the world again – the panic, anxiety, and the overwhelming assault on the senses, all without uttering a single word of dialogue.
The dual format edition comes with an HBO making-of, a featurette on Rob Brown – this being his first time acting – deleted scenes, an original trailer, but no scene selection. No chapter selection, that’s weird. There are chapters in the film but no selection on the menu. Why is that weird? What possible right have they got in denying us a chapter selection?
Finding Forrester, a decently made and acted movie with no chapter selection.
Dir: Gus Van Sant
Scr: Mike Rich
Cast: Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murry Abraham
Prd: Sean Connery, Laurence Mark
DOP: Harris Savides
Runtime: 136 minutes
Finding Forrester is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.