Retro Film Review: Good Will Hunting (1997)
Old adage about writing of what you know was brilliantly validated by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, two best friends from South Boston. Their screenplay, partly inspired by their experiences of growing up in rough blue-collar neighbourhood, was turned into Good Will Hunting, 1997 drama directed by Gus Van Sant. This film didn't stand a chance against Titanic during the "Oscar" race, but its authors were later more than comforted with Damon and Affleck winning their "Oscar" for original script and becoming big Hollywood stars at the same time.
Protagonist of the film is Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon), young man who doesn't seem very different from many youths who grew up in South Boston. Orphaned and abused in childhood, Hunting developed nasty temper, impressive police record and he spends all of his free time in bars with Chuckie (played by Ben Affleck) and his other neighbourhood friends. However, few people know that Hunting actually has above average intellectual abilities -he reads a lot and, thanks to photographic memory, has extensive knowledge of many arcane subjects while his level of intelligence allows him to instantly solve the most difficult of all mathematical problems. The latter is accidentally noticed by Gerald Lambeau (played by Stellan Skarsgard), mathematics professor at MIT where Hunting works as janitor. Lambeau wants to work with the young genius, but Hunting refuses until being arrested and tried for assaulting police officer. Lambeau arranges a deal with the judge -Hunting is going to work with Lambeau and attend therapy sessions in order to deal with his temper. Hunting proves to be too smart for all therapists except Lambeau's old friend Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams). Maguire, who is also native of South Boston and has some traumatic issues of his own, establishes rapport with the youth and gradually leads him to change his life. In the meantime, Hunting starts relationship with Skylar (played by Minnie Driver), beautiful Harvard student.
Cynics might say that Academy voters awarded Damon and Affleck for the effort rather than for the result of their work. Despite intriguing (and in some ways even preposterous) premise about undiscovered genius wasting his talent by living as ordinary man, the main story of Good Will Hunting has been used in Hollywood for decades - young man facing the ghosts of his past and decides to change his life for the better. What sets the script apart is lack of the explicit sentimentality and the excellent dialogue. Even better impression is given by actors delivering that dialogue, including Damon and Affleck. The best actor of them all is, of course, Robin Williams who shows great and seldom used ability for dramatic roles. Director Van Sant, on the other hand, has some problems with the film's pacing and the subplot involving Hunting's girlfriend was unnecessary (or inserted in order to discard all speculations about real nature of Hunting-Maguire relationship). Despite that, Good Will Hunting is charming, entertaining and uplifting movie with the title that perfectly fits its quality.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on April 22nd 2004)
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Movie URL: themoviedb.org/movie/489-good-will-hunting