In FINDING FORRESTER, director Gus Van Sant, who last gave us a shot-by-shot
reconstruction of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO, returns to the same familiar
subject matter of the young and gifted that he pursued in GOOD WILL HUNTING.
This time the story concerns a black, 16-year-old writer, Jamal Wallace (Rob
Brown), who leaves his run-down Bronx school to attend Mailor, a prestigious
private school in Manhattan. Although he is awarded an academic
scholarship, he is expected to help Mailor win the basketball championship.
Ironically, first-time screenwriter Mike Rich has fashioned a remarkably
thin story about a first-time writer. Fully three quarters of the movie
elapses before it finally gets to the big "plagiarism" incident, which like
every twist is telegraphed way in advance. Although Rich pads the story
with many inconsequential incidents, he permits us just one glimpse at
Jamal's writings. The lone example shows only that Jamal picks heart-felt,
close-to-home subjects. We get no sense of his literary abilities. We are
allowed, mainly in practice sessions, to view some of his basketball
prowess, but that isn't important since the point of the film, after all, is
Jamal's mentor is a Pulitzer Prize winner, William Forrester (Sean Connery),
who lives a hermit's existence in an old apartment above the court where
Jamal and his buddies play basketball. William, who will remind many of
J.D. Salinger, wrote one book a half century ago and quit. No longer
venturing from his place, he has food and fresh sox brought to him, and he
views the world like a voyeur from his apartment window. On a dare, Jamal
sneaks into William's apartment. Accidentally leaving behind his writings,
Jamal gets them thrown back with comments both snide ("constipated
thinking") and encouraging ("This passage is fantastic.") scrawled on them
Brown and Connery deliver nice, albeit not exceptional, performances. The
easy going chemistry between them has remarkably few rough edges and is a
pleasure to watch.
William's teaching style is to let Jamal, using an old typewriter, take
William's words as a starting point and to mold them into his own. As Jamal
bangs away on the keyboard, William throws out homilies such as, "The first
key to writing is to write, not to think." And they agree that starting a
sentence with a conjunction is a good writing choice even if it does violate
some old-fashioned rules. But one shouldn't do it too often.
F. Murray Abraham plays the clichéd Professor Spence, a man who couldn't
write so he teaches writing. In fact -- you've got to love these
coincidences -- it was none other than William himself who put the quietus
on the good professor's last book attempt by calling his publishers and
advising them not to publish it. Let me give you a flavor of the level of
predictability in the script. Do you think that there will be a key
confrontation scene late in the story between these two old protagonists?
Who would you guess will prevail?
Anna Paquin (THE PIANO) is completely wasted in an underwritten part as
Jamal's friend, Claire. Other than smile and talk about her rich father --
he fixed it so the school would go coed just so she could join -- Paquin
doesn't have anything to do. A big scene for her is one in which she puts
her hand on Jamal's in order to reassure him that he will get past his one
The film works best as a light comedy, and there are many satisfying, albeit
small, laughs. Generally, the movie aspires to be something more, but its
retreaded dialog keeps getting in the way. "God, he's a basketball player
from the Bronx!" the professor says of Jamal, as a way to prove that Jamal
must not have the intellectual capacity to be writing the papers that he has
been turning in for credit.
Sometimes it is the small things that trouble you about a production.
Mailor is supposed to be the best private school on the East Coast, and much
is made of the importance of its basketball team. When we finally see their
games, Van Sant has set them in a gym so small that there isn't more than
five feet on each side of the court, leaving room for no more than a few
dozen fans. And then they switch to a packed Madison Square Garden for the
Don't leave before the epilogue. There is an Academy Award winner who acts
in a little uncredited part. If you like the movie, this epilogue could be
the best part. The film, however, left me relatively unmoved. Still, it is
always good to see Connery, and newcomer Brown shows a lot of promise.
FINDING FORRESTER runs a little over 2 hours. It is rated PG-13 for brief
strong language and some sexual references and would be acceptable for kids
around 12 and up.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes