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Good Will Hunting

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Good Will Hunting

Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams
Director: Gus Van Sant
Rated: R
RunTime: 126 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Drama, Romance

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

There is a moment in GOOD WILL HUNTING when Will and Chuckie, a couple of South Boston blue-collar buddies, go to a bar near Harvard. Just as they get their kicks by brawling in their local neighborhood with other Southies, they relish taking on the eggheads uptown.

Chuckie spies Skylar, a good looking premed student at the bar. Pretending he met her in a history class, he begins to put the moves on her. Spotting a charlatan, one of Skylar's fellow classmates begins putting Chuckie down by spewing out a stream of hyperintellectual questions for him. To Chuckie's rescue comes Will with his photographic memory and his incredible knowledge. Like a prize fighter, Will slings one fact after another at the Harvard student until he is mentally beaten to a pulp.

Actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, close friends together in real life, play Will Hunting and Chuckie, but their largest contribution to the picture is the marvelous script which they wrote together way back in college. They both grew up in South Boston, so the story possesses an authenticity that many lack. Always intelligent, usually moving, frequently funny and subtlety emotional, the screenplay takes the story of a hugely gifted individual into uncharted territory.

Ben Affleck, who was so hilarious earlier this year in CHASING AMY, plays a smaller and more serious role. Matt Damon, who seemed relatively lost in THE RAINMAKER, this time delivers a brilliant and complex performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Minnie Driver from CIRCLE OF FRIENDS gives a touching performance as someone who wants desperately to be loved by Will.

As famous mathematics Professor Lambeau, Stellan Skarsgard from BREAKING THE WAVES does a wonderful job in the part most easily ignored. It is Professor Lambeau who uncovers the identity of the "mystery mathematician" who solves problems left on the board that stump the faculty. Will, who works as a janitor at MIT, has a virtually unlimited mental capacity. He can fire off solutions to unsolvable problems as fast as he can shoot off his mouth or swing his fists.

With a rap sheet as long as the proverbial arm, Will finds himself in jail. The professor gets him out on condition that they work together on some math problems and that Will go into counseling for his uncontrollable temper.

Since Will has no desire to see a shrink or to deal with his anger, he blows off a series of psychologists. In a sequence reminiscent of a Woody Allen movie, the picture shows Will annihilating the shrinks. Finally, the professor turns to his old friend from college, Sean McGuire, as his last chance. In a performance worthy of a nomination for best supporting actor, Robin Williams plays Sean. Devoid of Robin's normal comic shtick, his acting reaches emotional depths that he seldom displays.

In one of the show's best scenes, a confrontation between Lambeau and Sean, Lambeau argues for pushing Will to take a position in which he can contribute to the world. Arguing that the world is a better place because an obscure 25 year old clerk in the Austrian patent office, Albert Einstein, did not deny his gift, Lambeau claims that Will should be encouraged to make something of his talents. Sean counters with another brilliant mathematician, Theodore Kaczynski, who turned not into humanity's savior but into the Unabomber.

Director Gus Van Sant Jr. (TO DIE FOR) reveals his own gift in the movie's staging. From an explosive first encounter between the two to a bucolic scene at the lake where Sean lambastes Will for thinking that all the world's knowledge can be found in books alone, Van Sant delivers nothing short of gripping filmmaking. Working closely with his cinematographer, Jean-Yves Escoffier, they are as adept at the scene shot from afar as the ones filmed in tight close-up.

"Don't worry about me," Will tells Sean. "I know what I'm doing." Actually, Will is as incompetent in charting a course for his own future as he is unbeatable when it comes to mathematics. Sean, who had a wife he adored, lost her two years ago after a long illness. Still wearing the scars of her death while loving his memories of their life together, Sean has much to teach Will about life, but only if Will can break his mental chains and listen. Rather than being a distraction, Sean's remorse dovetails nicely with Will's story of emotional dysfunction. "You do what's in your heart son," Will advises Sean once he has broken through to him. "You'll be fine."

Although I would have preferred to see the film end 10 minutes earlier than it does and leave the audience to fill in the story's resolution, the ending does work quite well and mine would have probably tested miserably. GOOD WILL HUNTING accomplishes the rarely obtained goal of creating a wide variety of intricate characters, all worth caring about.

GOOD WILL HUNTING runs 2:05. It is rated R for profanity and sexual humor and would be fine for teenagers.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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