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Good Will Hunting

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All-Reviews.com 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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Sure, America has no kings or queens, but social classes are alive and well. The conflicts between the circles provide abundant material for both drama and comedy: "Good Will Hunting," Gus Van Sant's surprisingly conventional psychological piece, supplies both. Despite its schematic layout and predictable outcome, the ensemble acting is of such a high level--particularly that of Robin Williams, Matt Damon and Stellan Skarsgard--that the impact on his audience is spellbinding. "Good Will Hunting," whose title is evoked from its main character and its theme alike, treats a subject exploited by Robert Redford in "Ordinary People," doing so with explosively funny one-liners and effectively poignant moments.

A commonly-held view is that geniuses just cannot fit in...their ability to see what few others can casts them into nether regions of research and academe where they toil away, intellectually satisfied but emotionally starved. The title figure of Van Sant's latest feature does not quite correspond to this stereotype. He is certainly not challenged intellectually since he has no discovered a problem he cannot easily solve, nor does he strive to find a career worthy of his gifts. Emotionally, he erects walls, refusing to let anyone in for fear of finding himself less than perfect and invulnerable. The task of the two adults who change his life and the peers who love him, of course, is to shatter this wall, to reach this twenty- year-old prodigy, and send him off to a future which will not necessarily be a rose garden but which opens him up to those aspects of life he dare not confront. In "Good Will Hunting" Van Sant, fully realizing a wise-guy screenplay written by two of his young performers, steers clear of oddball themes he evoked in "To Die For" and "My Own Private Idaho" and "Drugstore Cowboy," compensating by a drama rich in sharp dialogue and exceptionally strong performances.

The story deals with Will (Matt Damon), a tough orphan brought up in the South Bronx, who has been abused by his drunken stepfather and thereby never exposed to the possibility of a higher education. An avid reader with a photographic mind, however, he has far more book knowledge in math, history, politics, art and literature than any of the students he encounters at Harvard and MIT, two of the country's premier universities. When he is not polishing the hallways of MIT at a job he was assigned by a parole officer (he is imprisoned for assaulting a policeman), he is either solving mathematical problems anonymously or hanging out in pubs with his rugged pals, especially Chuckie (Ben Affleck). When an award-winning math professor, Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) discovers the youth's ability to solve math problems that even he cannot work out, he gets the young man out of jail and puts him in the hands of psychology professor Sean McGuire (Robin Williams) at a small, obviously mediocre community college. Though other analysts have been unable to reach Will, Sean gets through, presumably because he is himself damaged goods--having failed to make use of his abilities to achieve the honors received by his former classmate, Lambeau, and unable to get over the painful death of his wife. What's more, Sean seems smothered by an envy of his more successful classmate who teaches at the country's most prestigous technical college.

Two monologues in the film are nothing short of dazzling: one, delivered by Sean while he and his patient are sitting around a pond, is built on the psychologist's refusal to see the boy's life as exceptional. The lad, according to Sean, will quote a Shakespearean sonnet but has probably never loved, can discuss the politics of war but has never held the head of a wounded friend on the battlefield, can discuss world affairs but has never in his life left Boston. The other is a leftist lecture which Will lays on to some officials in the National Security Administration, an organization seven times the size of the CIA, which is trying to recruit him to break codes. Will sees the job as one which will help the organization exploit people in other lands who "make fifteen cents a day," and which will result in American bombardment over foreign territories to insure the even flow of oil to the U.S.

Much of this edgy drama is so riveting that it is actually a shame that a romantic theme has been jackknifed into the story, one which halts the tale's momentum and helps provide for an all-too-neat conclusion. The courtship involved Will with a rich Harvard senior, Skylar (Minnie Driver), who is bound for medical school and has fallen in love with this genius who is of a vastly different social class.

Filmed largely on location in Boston, the movie will do wonder for the budding career of Matt Damon, who succeeds admirably in maintaining a New England accept throughout and who, by sharing in the writing of the script, proves to be a man of great talent not unlike the character he plays. His chemistry with Robin Williams is visceral: Van Sant builds up the relationship in steps, taking Will Hunting from a hopelessly resistant analysand who in one session says not a word to a kid who breaks down in tears by his final session. Photographer Jean Yves Escoffier does wonder with the working-class, South Boston neighborhood, filming a rowdy fight with alarming realism and subtly providing a few key flashbacks to underscore the backgrounds of Will and Sean.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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