Directed by Gus Van Sant
Review by Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
The last feature film that I watched in 2000 was From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, made in 1963 starring a 33-year-old Sean Connery. 38 years later, he's still a major star, even if he is no longer licensed to kill. His latest film, Finding Forrester, didn't involve any stunts or many shoots outside of an apartment set. His hairline may be a distant memory, and whatever is left on his head may be grey, but he's held up quite well over the years, and he has made another very good film.
In the South Bronx, Jamal Wallace (first-time actor Rob Brown) goes to public school, where he excells at basketball but not in his classwork. His exceptional intelligence was only evident in his constant reading and writing, until he received his results from a standardized test. His impressive score captures the attention of the Mailor Callow school in Manhattan, who are willing to give him a full scholarship. Of course, they wouldn't be disappointed if he tried out for the basketball team.
Fitting in with all the rich kids isn't easy, especially while carrying the label of a lower-class jock. His new writing teacher, Henry Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) is suspicious of his test scores, assuming that they were fixed to get him onto the basketball team. When Jamal turns in some of his writing, it is so good that Crawford suspects plagiarism. Jamal is getting help with his writing, but he can't reveal his mentor's identity. Just before he started going to Mailor Callow, Jamal met and befriended William Forrester (Connery), a legendary author who wrote one great novel in 1953, and has lived as an anonymous recluse in the Bronx ever since.
The heart of the film is the unlikely relationship between William and Jamal, and how this friendship allows William to be reacquainted with the outside world. Screenwriter Mike Rich was probably inspired by a fantasy of befriending J.D. Salinger himself, making him come out of his self-imposed exile. He has written an impressive screenplay his first time out, just as Brown has made a stunning debut.
At 16, Rob Brown landed the role without any previous experience or training. He holds his own against three Oscar winners (Connery, Abraham, and Anna Paquin, who plays his best friend at school), and manages to carry the film whenever Connery is off the screen. While Brown and Connery are together, the film takes on a magical quality. This was the kind of atmosphere that director Gus Van Sant was able to accomplish with Good Will Hunting, but I was afraid he had lost all artistic sensibility when he remade Psycho.
There isn't much about Finding Forrester that's disappointing. Even Abraham's character, who seems rather one-dimensional at first, eventually fills out. The real problem is with the advertisement, which gives away nearly the whole film. It was still very enjoyable to see the texture of the film, but it would have been much better to be surprised by some of the developments.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Finding Forrester (2000)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan