Friday, October 7, 2011

Good Will Hunting (Van Sant. 1997)

"How do you like them apples?!"

When Good Will Hunting was being shopped around to multiple studios around the United States, high ranking decision-makers had to wonder if the pair of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon could really pull off writing and starring in a film with this much emotional material. I am immediately reminded of the very similar story surounding the Best Picture winning film, Rocky, when nobody thought that Sylvester Stallone could ever be a convincing Rocky Balboa. But like Balboa and Stallone - Damon and Affleck were not meaning to portray complicated silhouettes of important people. Rather, they were simply trying to play the reflections of themselves that they had written into their original characters.

This is what makes a film like Good Will Hunting so enjoyable to watch. Every single scene has an element of personal rejoice, pain, love or familiarity that can be seen in the performances of the main cast. Matt and Ben grew up together in Massachusetts and say that they honestly do have the brotherly bond that the film endorses. There is something refreshing about seeing two people who have grown this close. It is the friendship between the two that gives the picture a strong sense of realism.

Damon plays a tortured, disadvantaged orphan named Will Hunting. Though life for Will has been difficult, he has an extraordinary gift of intelligence – especially in the field of mathematics. He is put under the tutelage of one of the most accomplished mathematicians in the world. The problem is that Will has serious behavioral issues. He is court ordered to see a therapist, but none of them have the capacity to handle Will’s criticism. All of this changes when he meets Sean Maguire.

Maguire is played brilliantly by the Academy Award winning Robin Williams. There is something tortured about his work in this film. This could have something to do with his years of alcohol and drug abuse, or it could have everything to do with his wanting to serve as a mentor to the young Matt Damon. Either way, Williams is the glue that holds Good Will Hunting together. He is also the cause of the film's only major problem.

There are so many working aspects in Good Will Hunting that talking down about it can seem a bit silly. But there are times that the film seems to be a bit overly-dramatic. The scenes between Affleck and Damon/Williams and Damon toe the line of sounding like they were written for a soap opera. There is a lot of melodrama here, but the acting is good enough to cover that up.

Gus Van Sant is a great director because he knew to not add too much flash to the film. There is a simple aesthetic to the Boston settings that is perfectly accompanied by the Oscar nominated score by Danny Elfman. Van Sant creates the images that we remember from this film. Affleck originally asked Clerks director Kevin Smith to be the man behind the camera. He turned the offer down because he said they needed to find a talented director for a screenplay this good. Thank goodness he knew his limits...

Good Will Hunting: B+

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