Sunday, September 7, 2014

Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Drama, 126 minutes
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Affleck and Minnie Driver

It's been a while since I watched Robin Williams act, and Good Will Hunting is the first time I have seen one of his performances since he died. Although I am a fan of his comedy, I much prefer his serious roles. Movies such as Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo and Insomnia proved that Williams was more than a comedian. In Good Morning Vietnam, he was able to blend comedy with drama to good effect. It's fair to say that Good Will Hunting would be far less effective without Williams in one of his two best performances (Dead Poets Society).

The story consists of several important elements that are present in all or most of our lives, and one that is far less common:

Will Hunting (Damon) is a genius, but he spends his life hanging out with his buddies from Southie. To him, friendship is far more important than his potential. He works in construction, spends his free time in bars, and isn't afraid to pick fights without any real reason to do so. He's the central character in the film, as you might suspect after reading the title. As the story unfolds, we learn more about his past, his motivations, and his possible future.

Ben Affleck is convincing as Hunting's most loyal friend, and it's obviously a friendship that exists outside the confines of the movie.

Gerald Lambeau is a professor at MIT, and recognizes that Hunting has an exceptional mind, even though he's a janitor and not a student at the institution. Lambeau tries to get Hunting psychological help, while developing and exploiting his genius as a mathematician.

The final key element is romance. Hunting spots Skylar at a bar and manages to win her attention. His upbringing makes him a difficult romantic partner, but I won't ruin the story for you.

As I sat watching the movie, I found that I connected with it on several levels. The writing is superb, and thoroughly deserved the Oscar for best screenplay. The interactions between these very real characters was authentic and easy to imagine. Everything just fits together perfectly. I was reminded why drama is my favorite genre by far. This story is about something important. While few of us understand true genius, we can certainly identify with the problems and obstacles that life throws at us from time to time.

Imagine that you have a similar level of intelligence to that of Will Hunting. Perhaps you do? What would you choose to do with it? Is money your definition of success? If so, you would have numerous paths to pursue to reach that rather easy goal. Would you prefer to make a real difference in the world in your chosen field? Would you take a step back and figure out what truly makes you happy, even if it meant that your genius would be rarely utilized? Would you give it all up for the right romantic partner?

I like movies that reach me emotionally and make me think, and Good Will Hunting does all that and more. The script is insightful when you consider that it was written by two men in their mid-20s. Williams gives a memorable performance and Damon is right up there with him. Minnie Driver is believable as the interesting romantic interest, and the story is well-paced and intelligent. Good Will Hunting will appeal to anyone who enjoys drama, the psychological reasons that drive our choices, and human behavior in general.

Overall score 4.5/5

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  1. A particularly fine review on your part that offers other viewers some reflective thoughts and expands one's mental horizons when it comes to the choices we have in life. My husband and I grew up with Williams, and I believe that he was the first to be taken with his brilliant acting.

    While 'Dead Poets Society' made me sit up, it was Williams and his performance in 'Good Morning Vietnam' that really caught my attention. It has been awhile now since I've watched again either of the above, but it seems that in both roles as the central person, he leaves at the end of the story as an 'unsung hero' with a slight smile and an invisible wave, knowing that he has done the best he can when facing the obstacles and conflicts placed in front of him by the authorities-in-power, with no regret or bitterness. A man who maintains the courage of his convictions.

    'Good Will Hunting', a solid and rewarding movie, starring Matt Damon as the lead character and another favorite actor here, reminds this viewer of the importance of luck in life where a person endowed with genius may go unrecognized and will be lost to the world. In 'Good Will Hunting,' the astute and patient professor Lambeau is played by Williams with just the right note. He never resorts to being a bully when it comes to helping Will Hunting (a great name, by the way), as his unrecognized student, understanding how particularly vulnerable those with genius can be. If I remember correctly Williams in his role of teacher, also bids his student farewell with encouragement, as to the choice and direction he will take when going on the Road of Life.

    To the honest, I am still too young to remember the romance in this story, but it brought to mind the late British J.G. Farrell who died at 43 in an accident while fishing one August in Ireland. On reading his essays and letters, while he loves many women with ambivalent feelings, after gaining some success with his first publication, a solitary man, he chooses to be considered as a "writing-machine" first by his many friends and above all. Too passionate for his writing as he enters into his prime perhaps, to wish to have some permanent company by his side. He makes an important choice and he writes that he is a happy man to a friend.

    In the meantime, this was a fine movie that you chose to review, and your well-written input on the above with just the right amount of detail, gives far greater scope than before as to why 'Good Will' was a success and is well worth watching again.

    1. Thanks Anon :)

      Williams was probably a genius or close to it himself. That's the impression he gave with his quick wit in any case. Maybe the drugs had something to do with that, but I don't think you can fake intelligence to that degree. Damon has been good for a long time and rarely gets the credit he deserves.