At first glance, Finding Forrester looks just like Good Will Hunting, except that Robin Williams is older and Scottish, and Matt Damon is younger and black. That doesn't end up being far from the truth, but a good story is a good story, even if you've already read it.
Gus Van Sant, director of both Forrester and Hunting, apparently felt little need to vary his theme between the two films. Genius from the wrong side of the tracks comes out of nowhere, makes fools out of the establishment, and finds himself along the way. It worked wonders in Hunting, to the tune of a huge box office and multiple Oscar nominations. It works in Forrester, as well, except that people aren't really going out in droves to see the movie, and it doesn't look like many awards are likely. Why not? Maybe most people feel like they've already seen this movie, and feel no need to shell out $7.00 twice. It's too bad, because reworked storyline notwithstanding, Forrester has a lot to offer.
For one, Sean Connery is very good here. This is probably the best acting he's done since The Untouchables, and that was in the eighties. He gets to growl and grumble as only he can do, but better yet, he gets to act his age. He's the mentor, not the hero, and it serves him well. As good as he is, he's shown up by newcomer Rob Brown. As Jamal, he gives us a character who can't be comfortable anywhere. He's smarter than his friends, and they know it even though he goes to pains to hide his genius. He's a brilliant writer, but he makes C grades so as not to stand out. What he openly shines in is basketball, a pursuit that is appreciated by his peers. He finally finds a kindred in Connery's William Forrester, an eccentric author who has been living like a hermit in his Bronx apartment for twenty years. Connery helps him polish his skills as a writer, and eventually he gets a chance to attend the swanky prep school Mailer-Callow. He enters a prestigious writing contest and that's where things start to go awry. Of course, the English professor can't believe that Jamal has actually written the piece he has entered for the contest (poor blacks can't write), so Jamal is faced with a quandary. Betray the confidence that Forrester has placed in him not to reveal his whereabouts, or get kicked out of the school for plagiarism. This is where the movie starts to go awry, as well. The acting, dialogue, everything remains top-notch, but I think I remember Alex P. Keaton going through this exact same problem on Family Ties. And I'm pretty sure that Theo Huxtable had to make this choice on The Cosby Show. My point is that, even though this movie is well done and enjoyable, it's biggest conflicts boil down to little more than a very special night of Must-See-TV.
The Columbia Pictures presentation Finding Forrester (2000) traces the unique relationship that develops between eccentric, reclusive novelist William Forrester (Oscar-winner Sean Connery, left) and the young, amazingly gifted scholar-athlete, Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), who becomes his protg.
The best parts of the movie are when Jamal and Forrester are cooped up in his musty apartment, arguing about the nature of writing. The dialogue is crisp and entertaining, and full of good tips for aspiring writers. At one point, Forrester places two old fashioned electric typewriters back to back and instructs Jamal to begin writing. When Jamal complains that he can't think of anything to write, Forrester answers that there is no need to think. "Write the first draft with your heart, the second draft with your head." These are the times that the film rises above the norm, and allows its two leads to shine.
I also appreciated the characterization of Jamal's friends. Too often these days, black youths are portrayed as little more than gangstas when they are in a group. It's almost like Hollywood is saying "Oh, they're alright one on one, but let 'em get in a group and watch out!" Finally we get a group of black inner-city kids who are just that: kids. They're not toting machine guns or selling drugs. Yeah, they're talking trash on the basketball court, but they're not going to kill anyone over it. And when they dare Jamal to sneak into a crazy old man's apartment, they don't intend for him to rob the place and murder Forrester in his sleep, it's just a dare. Maybe race relations in this country would be better if Hollywood were a little more realistic in its portrayals of people.
Finding Forrester was a good movie. It just wasn't a great movie, which is what it really wanted to be. I think it tried to tackle too many themes: racism, class systems, stereotypes, basketball, plagiarism, fear of failure, agoraphobia (fear of going outside), even drunk driving. It had too many climactic scenes: the school board review, the championship game, the writing contest. And, ultimately, it wasn't quite brave enough. We've already seen all this stuff before. I don't mean to suggest that you should stay away. Forrester is fine, just don't expect to find anything new. Grade: B
Finding Forrester is rated PG-13 for language.
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