FINDING FORRESTER gets lost in the trees of formula predictability, weedy mentor-movie clichés and a Hollylib tangle of pretended depth, false catharsis, bogus social lessons and wish-fulfillment nonsense. Interest is sustained thanks to Sean Connery’s studied ease at playing gruff, through some bright injections of life from the supporting cast, and in keeping you wondering how much of Good Will Hunting it’ll pilfer before whiffs from Scent Of A Woman filter in.
Sixteen-year-old African-American high schooler ‘Jamal Wallace’ (Rob Brown) is a whiz shooting hoops with his buddies in the Bronx. Less flamboyantly, he’s a seriously good student, with grades sufficient to see him selected for an academic scholarship at a prestigious private school in Manhattan. Dovetailing with the new classroom routine is an offbeat friendship, developing after a rocky start, with a neighborhood recluse (Connery) who turns out to be a legendary writer. Cranky urban hermit ‘William Forrester’ wrote just one book, decades back, and stopped, but smart-as-a-whip Jamal has a love of literature and a gift for adding his own; the old man undertakes tasking and training the boy’s talent.
In directing, Gus Van Sant mostly goes soggy mainstream here; the Good Will Hunting aroma (a movie he directed) is furthered with a brief cameo late in the proceedings by good Will himself, Matt Damon (playing a lawyer), added for no reason other than to rather precociously remind you of the earlier (W)ill-he-make it? setup. F.Murray Abraham’s smirking professor summons not just his arrogant poseur from Amadeus but the faculty finks from Scent Of A Woman, thereby cueing Connery’s last-minute cavalry rescue of his protégé (though Sean skips Al Pacino’s flame-thrower threat). Anna Paquin plays a wealthy classmate who takes to Rob—just like real life.
Connery’s strong, obviously relishing the role of a sarcastic coot passing on wisdom while breaking nards at the same time (he co-produced the $43,000,000 project). Picked from 4,500 hopefuls, Brown, 16, had never acted, and auditioned hoping to pay his $300 cell phone bill. Van Sant and Connery saw something special in the raw and eager kid. He learned on the job, and does quite well for a first-timer facing down 007. *
The script, by first-timer Mike Rich, is the weak element, extra-frustrating because after spending a great deal of time with two writers, dropping how-to-create bromides around like Kandycorn, it then ignores its own advice to and from the characters by dutifully sabotaging freshness and impact with tired tropes, lazy subplots and yawn-provoking contrivances.
Overlong at 136 minutes, it drew mostly positive reviews (with a gallery of unsold dissenters), and made $51,805,000 in the States, spotting 49th place for 2000, with another $28,245,000 earned elsewhere. Even with flaws, this would have made a much better swan song for Connery, 69, than his next and last, the overdone & undercooked The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
With Busta Rhymes (very good, playing Jamal’s supportive, high-energy older brother), Fly Williams III, Matthew Noah Word, Michael Nouri, Michael Pitt.
* Brown, on Connery: “He sat me down and he made it a point to say, ‘No one told me this when I was coming up so I am going to tell you.’ One of those things that he told me was to finish my education and get my degree because that’s something he never did. That’s another reason I didn’t just up and leave and go to L.A. and try to just make it because Sean Connery told me not to. He told me the movies will come. Get your education and I feel as though that’s why we had so much chemistry because, you know, it was largely on him.”
Rob went on to attend Amherst College in Amherst, MA, graduating in 2006. He played varsity football and majored in psychology. The movies and TV came along, when he was ready.