Friday, 17 March 2017

Retro Review: Finding Forrester (2000)

Finding Forrester
Cast: Rob Brown, Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes
Genre: Coming of Age Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $80 million 

Plot: A young writing prodigy finds a mentor in a reclusive author

'A Spiritual Successor To Good Will Hunting, Yet Arguably More Compelling'

Finding Forrester is a film that I would describe as a combination of Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting and Dangerous Minds, with a hint of basketball thrown in for good measure. The film is directed by Gus Van Sant, who did 1997's Oscar-winning, Good Will Hunting starring Matt Damon, Robin Williams and Ben Affleck. A film in which I personally felt was elevated by the performances, more so than through the screenplay and the script. In contrast to many others, I was a little underwhelmed and thus, there weren't enough moments that made me want to love it, as much as it wanted me too. 

Finding Forrester was Gus Van Saint's follow-up from 2000, which is a very similar film to Good Will Hunting in many ways. Yet also there were things that struck me about it that captured my attention that the former film didn't do enough for me. The script, screenplay, the characterisations, the main characters, elements from Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Dangerous Minds, He Got Game all rolled into one film. And one that was accessible, for me easily identifiable and the film's background and setting resonated with me a great deal. 

Jamal Wallace is a 16- yr- old who attends high school, whose class work is satisfactory but who excels at tests and gets high marks. He has a love for basketball but also towards writing, of which not many of his friends and his mother know about. His scores attract the attention of an elite private school, who take him on by virtue of not just his academic abilities, but for his athletic ones through his basketball skills. As well as a recluse writer, William Forrester, who has chosen to shut himself out from society, we have a young black teen in Jamal who aspires to be a writer, as well as excel at basketball.  

Finding Forester also treads on Dead Poets Society's waters, and is set in a cultural context- and by this, this is not just a black versus white thing and of this African American teenager triumphing against the odds. It's also about dispelling stereotypes and assumptions about being Black. That no matter your skin colour, if you're intelligent, willing to work hard and be a good person, you can succeed in anything. Unlike others, Jamal is not a thug, wannabe gangsta. He doesn't do drugs, he is not a criminal or a gang member- he just wants a good life and future for himself and doesn't let his talents and abilities go to waste. He too is looking to find his voice and looking for what he has to offer. As well as being intelligent, he is also a skilled basketball player too. 

Sean Connery is the Sean Maguire of this film (Sean Maguire was played by Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting) and he is William Forrester: an author who becomes acquainted with Jamal. The pair initially meet up, after Jamal sneaks into William's apartment several times and afterwards, they strike an unlikely bond. William could have easily been played by Robin Williams - regardless, Sean Connery's turn is just astounding. His synergy with fellow actor, Rob Brown is great to watch, without him hogging the limelight and he brings a charm to which I felt Robin Williams's Sean lacked, -even in that restrained yet well-executed performance of his. But for his turns in Indiana Jones and James Bond, I always felt that as great an actor Sean Connery is, I felt there needed to be a film that really showcased his true acting credentials on screen. He hasn't had many of these types of films and roles under his belt, but with this one, it was clearly it & Connery showed how great of a dramatic actor he can truly be- and yet, unfortunately, Finding Forrester never received the attention or adulation it so deserved, with Good Will Hunting taking all of the plaudits. 

In addition to the performances, it is a film, which is further punctuated by a well-developed screenplay and Gus Van Sant lends his touch, which is light and not too heavy-handed that suits the story it tries to tell. 

Rob Brown's turn is nothing short of admirable and he brings forth a quality, which unfortunately hasn't been replicated in his other roles. He held his own against pro-Sean Connery and delivered the dramatic punches, when necessary. He never overplays it and he does it, just right. 

The film could've descended into the typically clich├ęd territory and play into stereotypes - had Jamal turned to crime, getting himself caught and thrown into jail. Thankfully, that never happened and yet the film didn't need to go down that path. The inclusion of a bad guy in Professor Robert Crawford (F. Abraham Murray) added extra appeal to this film. He does all he can to undermine Jamal and William at his own game and further tarnish their reputations. Rapper Busta Rhymes also turned in a solid performance as an actor, whilst the remaining performances were quite good. However, Anna Paquin's character didn't really do it for me- although I can easily overlook that and focus on the positives because there was so many of them. 

Final Verdict: 

Finding Forrester is equally as good as Good Will Hunting as a film, and still, it possesses those extra traits that make it all the worthwhile. Personally, I'll take this one over Good Will Hunting: the story, narrative, performances captivated me and it went, one, two steps further than Good Will Hunting. It also felt more earnest to me than that movie. 

Far more heartfelt and a film that really made me took notice of the characters involved: from Jamal and William to Jamal's family, his friends and fellow classmates, these characters are and were easy to connect with for me- which I can't say the same for Good Will Hunting. That offering spent more time trying to convince us how smart Will Hunting is, rather than presenting us, or be it myself, with an engaging, well paced and at times, entertaining story. Which Finding Forrester does. 

It's touching and inspiring, with a few good bright spot moments. I don't get how this was overlooked on general release in 2000. 

If this was the swansong for Sean Connery's career, then he went out with a bang. It may not be a big one, especially as Finding Forrester had a very low-key release. But he sure as hell gave it everything, and it worked. 

Underrated and overlooked, this was magnificent. 

Overall :

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