Finding Forrester

dir Gus Van Sant
scr Mike Rich
with Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes, Fly Williams III, Michael Pitt, Michael Nouri, Richard Easton, Glenn Fitzgerald, Zane R Copeland Jr, Matt Damon
release US 19.Dec.00; UK 23.Feb.01
Columbia 00/US 2h15 2 out of 5 stars
Gus Van Sant bounces back from Good Will Hunting with ... another heart-warming tale of self-discovery, this time teaming up a crotchety old recluse with a gifted teenager. It's a fiercely well-made film that walks the fine line between cleverly insightful and irritatingly trite right up to the final half hour, when it finally gives in to the pressure. William Forrester (Connery) is a JD Salinger-like novelist who wrote one classic and then disappeared. But actually, he never left his Bronx apartment, from which he watches birds and spies on his young black neighbours playing basketball across the street. Through a series of events he meets one of these, Jamal (Brown), a gifted ball player who hides his braininess to be cool with his friends. Soon, William and Jamal enter a secret mentor-student relationship. Then Jamal attracts the interest of a posh private school that wants him for his prowess on the court, while his new writing teacher (Abraham) can't quite cope with his even more impressive gifts in the classroom.

By the end we're so well set up for a Scent of a Woman finale that the screenwriter can't quite resist it--along with a starry cameo and an all-thread-tying coda. This climax undermines any originality or insight the film builds up to that point. It's so excruciatingly obvious that the whole film leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But the stuff beforehand is actually quite good, with a finely toned performance from Connery and an impressively authentic debut from Brown. Van Sant even has some intriguing tricks up his sleeve as a director, giving the film an edgy vitality that draws us into the story and helps some of the themes vividly come alive. Then the story takes the easy way out and we're left hanging, angry at the derivative plot, lame dialog and a neat and tidy ending that undermines everything that went before. Hollywood films have a tendency to fall apart in the final reel (due to studio pressures and those notorious audience preview comments), but we hoped Van Sant would avoid this pitfall. Alas.
themes, language cert 12 20.Feb.01

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2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall