Good Will Hunting (15)

Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard, Minnie Driver, Ben Affleck

Some time ago, two struggling young actors wrote a script, a story about a young ruffian, who also happened to be a physics genius. They had planned a small budget film, and hoped they could scrape together some money to make it. The actors were Damon and Affleck, and were fortunate in that a big studio picked it up, Gus Van Sant wanted to direct it, and a big name star Robin Williams was signed.
I had heard this was a good film, but one thing that put me off is that I couldn't work out what it was about. After all, a film about a gifted janitor doesn't exactly make you sit up. The problem is that the so-called high concept movie has become almost an industry standard. You need to be albe to summarize a film in a sentence. For example; young lovers doomed on the Titanic, unemployed steel workers turn to stripping, aliens invade earth and blow up everything in sight, dinosaurs return due to genetics, corruption and intrigue in the LA ploice force in the 1950s. You should be able to spot all of those film. Good Will Hunting is not quite so easy to categorize, and that is not a bad thing, it just makes it hard to sell. What also doesn't help it the title. No one is searching for anything, no good will/Xmas spirit is involved. Instead it is the story of Will Hunting(Damon-excellent), an unloved orphan who we meet with his drop out friends getting into mischief. He has a series of dead end jobs, and while working as a janitor, finishes some physics students work due to his genius. A professor(Skarsgard) spots his talent and busts him from jail after a fight on the condition that he works on science and sees a psychologist. After a few shrinks are out thought by Will, under achiever Sean(Williams) is brought in, and the two establish a connection. Meanwhile Will meets English med student Skyla(Driver) and tries to make the relationship work despite his hang ups.
What makes this film work so well is primarily the script. Damon and Affleck do a superb job in recreating the senseless waste and hopelessness of young working class lives, the problems of getting close to someone when you are unable to be truthful with them, and especially in the dialogue between Will and Sean and they try to work out what makes Will tick. The characters are real and have depth, Will is a complex creation, Skyla far more than 'the girlfriend', the professor's frustation with Will's wasting of his talent, and Ben Affleck's character(can't remember his name) proves to be a true friend to Will. Secondly, the acting is excellent all round. Damon manages to be likable, while being a right prat a lot of the time, Skargard (sounds Scandanavian?) I haven't heard of, but he is a convincing boffin, Driver and Affleck also very good. Robin Williams has been nominated for a supporting actor Oscar(as have Driver for supporting actree and Damon for best actor) and should be in with a chance in a restrained but very effective performance.
This drama is a touching story that never sinks into sentimentality. A tough talking, emotional tale that definitely lingers in the mind. I'll be rooting for it on Oscar night. 8/10.

March 1998

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