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GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)
Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Nominated for nine Academy Awards:
Best Director, Gus Van Sant
Best Actor, Matt Damon
Best Supporting Actor, Robin Williams (win)
Best Supporting Actress, Minnie Driver
Best Original Screenplay, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (win)
Best Original Dramatic Score
Aren't films like this great? In a year when people where sick of the hype surrounding TITANIC and the art house flicks like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, people flocked to see a movie about two writers who went from rag to riches. Oh yeah, there's a little sub-plot about a movie somewhere in that success story about a boy wonder who goes from cleaning floors to solving mathematical problems. This sort of film is usually a welcome attraction since it has everything a movie needs in order to succeed. The hero with the heart of gold who hides it under anger and bitterness, as he distrusts the world. The lovable yet stern shrink who tackles him on and tries to break him out of his self-protective shield. The token love interest who the hero loves but won't commit to, though she is committed to him. The salt of the earth best friend who knows he's stuck in life's rut, so might as well help out a pal. The villain in the guise of a teacher, who dislikes the hero since he is everything he is not. People who got sick over Leo screaming, I'm king of the world and being nagged about Kim Basinger's icy bombshell performance in an underrated film, went in droves to see this nice little piece of pure manipulation. They loved the story and the story of the two screenwriters, who where as charming as Julia Roberts on helium. They went from talk show to talk show, and gave magazine interview after magazine interview about their long journey from living in the dumps to kicking it up with the stars was what made Damon and Affleck and overnight sensation. Unfortunately all that obnoxious noise merely covered up a convoluted and failed story that knows how to pull the right strings.
Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting that is), leads a pretty average life for a roughneck. He has a short temper, doesn't mind swinging back a few drinks, and whenever someone makes him angry, he gives the poor soul a few lashings with his fists. He is also the smartest person on the face of the planet, as he solves what appears to be impossible mathematical problems on the boards of the college where he cleans floors. His brain-dead friends are unaware of Will's super-genius, as he keeps them in the dark about for fear that they would reject him (of course, stupid people tend to remain with their own kind). Of course love is in the air, as Skylar (Driver), catches the emotionally bottled up Will.
When Will is court appointed to psychiatrist Sean McGuire (Williams) after another run in with the law, he finally meets his match. The good doctor is a take no nonsense fellow and really believes that Will needs to emerge from his shell and be introduced to the world for what it is, instead of looking at it from inside the box. Will isn't so nuts about having therapy, as he doesn't believe in it at all. But our hero the doctor, in all his infinite wisdom is unwilling to allow Will to whither away in a crummy job but to use his genius for the good of the world and himself. Will Dr. Sean McGuire reach Will Hunting in time? Will Skylar and Will live happily ever after? Will the smarmy doctor (played by the wonderful Stellan Skarsgard, who gave a riveting performance in BREAKING THE WAVES) who is against Will grow up and shut up about his past failures? Will the movie ever end? Unfortunately it takes two hours for all these questions to be answered, but when they are there is a collective sigh of joy that you can go and take a nap. I saw this movie while visiting Boston before the movie blew up into the Must See Movie of '97, and I hated the experience. It was emotionally flat and emotionally contrived, as at one point Williams looks at Damon and says, It's not your fault (talking about the systematic abuse Will suffered as a child). By this time I was searching for the last of the popcorn in my bag and found nothing but a few seeds and realizing that my shoe lace had come undone. The movie and the story simply didn't appeal to me because it strived for my approval. What exactly is the purpose of the movie? To show the emotionally fragile Will hiding his genius because he was beaten up as a child? To have Will grow as a respectable member of society? To stretch out a story that could have been wrapped up within twenty minutes was unbearable to endure, as Will's inner struggle and journey was watered down by haphazard writing and totally clichééd sub-plots. The script is arrogant and self-absorbed, and Damon's performance, as well as Affleck's hack job is laced with nothing but pride that their little script has been picked up and became a reality. Damon conveys the same tone throughout the entire films, and Affleck should be so lucky, but has several different layers of bad acting. He is the John Gielgud of bad acting, and has done absolutely nothing to improve over the years. Driver's in the mix because a love interest is required, and Skarasgard is reduced to being a caricature (to be fair, all the characters are). The psychology featured in the film could have been written by anyone who paid attention to the characters in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, and the so-called drama is unintentionally humorous. Everything about this is ludicrous, and knows all the roads to take on how to be ludicrous.
But the real tragedy is that director Gus Vant Sant, who directed such memorable films like TO DIE FOR, DRUGSTORE COWBOY and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, is reduced to weaving together such garbage. And think about this, the success of the movie helped him get the God awful remake of PSYCHO off of the ground.
On a good note, Williams performance has a few commanding moments, and he is at his best when Damon isn't around, which, sorry to say, isn't that much. Deserved of an Oscar? Not really, but at least in a movie where emotionally connecting to the characters is rare, his presence was appreciated.
In the hands of a better writing team, the material could have thrived to be something greater than this. I would have loved to be one of the many who shed a tear here and there during the two hour duration. But instead I found myself looking at my watch and wondering if it wasn't to late to see L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.
My Grade: D