Director Gus Van Sant made Good Will Hunting a couple of years ago. It was a nice story, so why not do it again? Finding Forrester takes many of the thematic elements of that film and transports it to the world of literature. Just take some unexpected talent from an unlikely source, and combine it with a J.D. Salinger-like author, and viola! It is predictable and it is derivative, but Van Sant does it so well that no one cares. Sean Connery and newcomer Rob Brown have great rapport together, and the script gives them plenty of enjoyable back and forth. This is basically a feel-good holiday movie, and it does everything required of it.
A prestigious prep school is recruiting Jamal Wallace (Brown) from the Bronx. His grades are not that great, but his standardized test scores are phenomenal. It also helps that he is a great basketball player. Jamal and his friends play next to a building with a reclusive tenant they call "The Window." On a dare, he goes up into the apartment, and "The Window" scares him away. Jamal leaves his backpack behind. Little do his friends know that Jamal writes, and many of his writings are in that backpack. He gets it back, and finds that "The Window" took a red pen to his writing, correcting it, and making it better. Jamal returns, and asks for help with his writing.
Jamal quickly discovers that "The Window" is actually William Forrester (Connery, Playing By Heart, Entrapment). Forrester wrote a book years ago, and then seemingly disappeared. He promises to help Jamal, as long as Jamal does not reveal his identify to anybody. He lives in a cloistered apartment, with books all over the place. The conflict arises when Professor Crawford (F. Murray Abraham, 13 Ghosts, Star Trek: Insurrection), Jamal's literature teacher, suspects he is plagiarizing his work. Crawford is a simple character whose sole purpose is to provide a focus of audience hatred. He incessantly dogs Jamal when he should be helping him succeed. Abraham plays him with zest, and it is so much fun rooting for his downfall.
The Forrester/Jamal relationship is one of mentor/student, but screenwriter Mike Rich purposely blurs the lines between the roles at different points. Forrester clearly helps Jamal improve his writing, but Jamal is the person who may be able to help Forrester rediscover the world he shut himself away from so many years ago. Forrester has a towering personality and is amazingly smart, but is also timid and introverted. Jamal is also very bright, but also quite normal. He just wants to write and play basketball with his friends. Connery and Brown give solid performances, and Brown is able to hold his own against Connery. Van Sant moves the story along at a quick clip, choosing to focus primarily on Jamal's character. There are subtle hints of a romance and a slight undercurrent of racism, but this is not what the movie is about. They merely help round out Jamal's character, giving him depth and personality. There really is nothing original about Finding Forrester. It works because of good verbal interplay and good acting, proving that as long as something familiar is done correctly, it can still be enjoyable.
|Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.|
|2 hours, 13 minutes, Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual references.|
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