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Good Will Hunting

August 19, 2014

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Director: Gus van Sant
Actors: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver

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Synopsis: Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a blue-collar Boston orphan with the mind of a genius and an aptitude for solving some of the most complex mathematic algorithms known to man. When Will’s secret is outed by MIT professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), Lambeau promises to take Will under his wing and help him find a job, in exchange for Will undergoing therapy with Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) to aid Will in coming to terms with his troubled past.

Review: Looking at Good Will Hunting completely dispassionately, it really shouldn’t work and would seem too much of a transparent ‘wish-fulfillment’ device for actors, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who have written themselves into this fantasy narrative which creates the ultimate ‘romantic’ character for a cool young thesp – anti-establishment, intelligent (a genius no less), macho – yet sensitive, vulnerable, and loved by an estimable woman. However….

What Damon, Affleck and director Gus van Sant have done is to negate the fanciful in the above scenario by placing it all into a fablistic framework whereby we readily suspend our disbelief over the realities of how a deprived young man from South Boston would be able to conveniently quote passages verbatim from cerebral history books, and could mark up some of the most difficult equations known to man in-between mopping the floors at MIT. Helping that ‘feelgood’, folsky feel is a lovely score from Danny Elfman (with choice soundtrack contributions from Elliott Smith), and great, bluesy cinematography from van Sant and Jean-Yves Escoffier.

It’s also a phenomenally well-acted film, and ironically – although Will Hunting is the centre of attention, and if nothing else, the role showcases Damon’s inherent smartness – it’s really the ensemble around Damon which makes the film. Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgård and Ben Affleck all create memorable characters, and let’s not forget Robin Williams’ turn as downtrodden therapist, Sean Maguire. It’s a deceptively good performance by Williams – the schmaltzy, empathetic raw materials of Maguire would seem to be heaven-sent for him, but he plays it absolutely straight, in very muted, dignified tones, which now acquire an even greater poignancy in light of his recent passing. (August 2014)

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