Good Will Hunting (1997) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong language, including some sex-related dialogue
Running Time: 126 min.
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard
Director: Gus Van Sant
Screenplay: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
Review published January 29, 1997
A 20-year-old prodigy (Damon, The Rainmaker), also an orphan and hoodlum, is a janitor at MIT. With a great gift for mathematics, and self-taught in many other sciences, he gets taken in by a brilliant math professor (Skarsgard, The Hunt for Red October) who sees great things in the young lad's future, but he's a hard-headed and hard-hearted kid. The professor tries various psychiatrists to look into screwing the young man's head on straight, eventually ending up with a down-on-his-luck shrink colleague (Williams, Deconstructing Harry), who may hold the key to getting into the boy's defenses. While this is happening the young genius must deal with opening himself up to love, and with the potential of leaving his friends and the life that gives him comfort behind.
I'm not exactly sure why Academy voters thought this film was worthy of nomination for Best Picture. Maybe it was a slow year, but I feel this film falls short of top 5 film worthiness for me. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the film and recommend it, but there's just a bit too much far-fetched and contrived plot motivations to keep this from really taking root in reality and moving me sufficiently.
Damon's character is so repugnant I find it difficult to buy that a smart, attractive Harvard undergraduate who is independently wealthy and has a bright future ahead of her would ever see anything within him to fall so madly in love with him considering his demeanor, prodigy or not. What makes this film ultimately work is the credible acting, with a deserved Oscar going to Williams as the psychiatrist, and there's some genuinely insightful commentary that proves the Oscar for screenplay was deserved as well.
Despite my quibbling, this film's moments of insight pulls it above the imaginary storyline to make it worthwhile and inspiring viewing nonetheless.
©1997 Vince Leo