out of five
Over-long and underwritten drama with too many shades of Good Will Hunting, but worth seeing for a terrific performance from newcomer Rob Brown.
Sixteen year-old Jamal Wallace (newcomer Rob Brown) is content to play
basketball with his friends and cruise through his classes, doing just
enough to get by and not enough to distinguish himself from the crowd.
However, some exceptional test scores give the game away, and he wins a
scholarship to a prestigious Manhattan school.
Meanwhile, after breaking into mysterious neighbour "Mr Window’s" apartment (so-nick-named because he’s always twitching at the curtains) for a bet, Jamal strikes up a friendship with reclusive writer William Forrester (Sean Connery), who agrees to help him with his writing.
It’s a mystery why Van Sant chose do this film so soon after his last big
success (we’ll brush quickly over the horrors of his Psycho re-make),
because the comparisons between Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting are inevitable.
Both feature a teenage ‘genius’ coming to terms with his talent, dealing with the inevitable distancing from his friends, and developing a mutually-rewarding relationship with a father-figure, and in case you missed all of that, there’s even a Celebrity Cameo at the end to jog your memory.
Sadly, Finding Forrester suffers by comparison, with Good Will Hunting only serving to highlight Forrester’s deficiencies.
The script is pure drama-by-numbers. There’s not a single surprising moment, to the point where you can actually predict the scenes yourself.
The one interesting angle - the possibility of a mixed-race relationship between Jamal and upper-class Anna Paquin (lovely, but under-used) - is
frustratingly dropped, despite a promising and subtly erotic scene with him
teaching her some basketball ‘moves’.
Other interesting characters also fall by the wayside, notably Jamal’s brother (well-played by the latest rapper-turned-actor Busta Rhymes) and the token refugee from Dawson’s Creek (Michael Pitt).
Connery is predictably good (he can do ‘gruff, yet good-hearted’ in his
sleep), and, given Robin Williams’ win for the same type of role in Good
Will, must surely have had one eye on an Oscar nomination, although the
film’s poor showing at the US box office has probably killed off that
F. Murray Abraham is good too, but also typecast, playing the same mean-spirited and professionally-jealous character he’s been asked to reprise in virtually every film since his Oscar for playing mean-spirited-and-professionally-jealous Salieri in Amadeus.
Ultimately, what makes the film worth seeing is Rob Brown’s performance - he gives an impressively naturalistic and believable performance, never
resorting to the sort of grandstanding big emotional moments these dramas
It’s a shame that the film itself is so ordinary, because Brown deserves to move on to greater things.
Other than that, the film is well-made and watchable, but nothing you haven’t seen before.