IMDB #215 Good Will Hunting

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Today we take a look at yet another Best Picture nominee, 1997's Good Will Hunting- another deserving film beaten by Titanic (which is decidedly not going to appear on this countdown. L. A. Confidential, which also lost that year, is at #65 as of this writing).

So many questions. Will we set a record for f-bombs in a countdown entry? Will we find clues to Ben Affleck's later poor script selection in this early triumph? Do we like dem apples? And is it Will's fault? Is it?

The Key Players:

Director Gus Van Sant recently earned a second nomination for Best Director for Milk, and won a Palm D'Or for 2003's Elephant. A giant of indie films, if that makes any sense, he's also the auteur behind such celebrated films as Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For, and Paranoid Park.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck famously launched themselves to fame writing and starring in this film. Affleck was the slightly bigger star at the time (starring in Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy), but Damon is the slightly bigger star these days. He's headlined three Bourne action movies and landed roles in The Departed, Saving Private Ryan, and the Ocean's series, and is also f*cking Sarah Silverman.

Ben Affleck's successes have been just as big, if less critically lauded (Armaggeddon, Pearl Harbor, The Sum Of All Fears), but his failures have been noticeably more spectacular, between Gigli and Daredevil). He's recently made a comeback of sorts with respectable roles in films like Hollywoodland and State Of Play and directing the well-received Gone Baby Gone, and he's also f*cking Jimmy Kimmel.

People under the age of thirty might not generally be aware of this, but Robin Williams used to be more than an utterly insane individual and bit player in awful family comedies. He was a respectable dramatic actor, winning an Oscar for his work here after nominations for Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and The Fisher King. Granted he has always balanced art-fare with family-friendly crowd-pleasers, but even those used to actually please crowds: Jumanji, Hook, and Mrs. Doubtfire have held up all-right, and his voice-work in Aladdin is my favorite part.

He has always been utterly insane, though.

Stellan Skarsgard (The Hunt For Red October, Ronin) Oscar nominee Minnie Driver (Circle Of Friends, Grosse Point Blank), and Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Gone Baby Gone) round out our cast, but I should probably get to the movie already, huh?

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The Story:

Damon and Affleck's award-winning script is verbally dense, but the plot is rather simple: Damon plays the eponymous Will Hunting, an orphaned, wary 20-year-old from South Boston with a rap sheet, abandonment issues, and the mind of a genius.

Working as a janitor at MIT, he solves an advanced math problem left on a hallway blackboard, bringing him to the attention of renowned math professor Gerry Lambeau (Skarsgard)- the professor goes to his latest hearing for assault charges and convinces the judge to release Will, provided he meet weekly with a therapist.

That therapist, after a few hilarious failed-attempts with stuffier shrinks, turns out to be Lambeau's college roommate Sean Maguire (Williams), who develops a rocky rapport with Will.

Will also meets a British Harvard med student, Skylar (Driver), and struggles with letting her into his life, which previously consisted only of a few loyal friends (two of whom are played by Afflecks).

Can a young man find his way in the world, even if all he has are a genius intellect, loyal friends, an impassioned mentor, a concerned therapist, and the love of a beautiful woman? Stay tuned to find out.

The Artistry:

Good Will Hunting is a film that I remembered only for a few key scenes, since I had seen it so long ago: mostly the funny moments, like "How do you like dem apples?", or the "Afternoon Delight" scene.

But it's not hard to see how it ended up with nine Oscar nominations, even in a year dominated by the more technically expansive Titanic and L. A. Confidential. Danny Elfman's austere score plays nicely off of the many songs contributed by the late Elliott Smith (whose career also took off thanks to this movie).

While our good old Van Sant expressiveness occasionally takes hold of the lens, such as in the early fight scene, Good Will Hunting is still by far his most accessible film this side of Finding Forrester. Jean-Yves Escoffier's cinematography takes the odd turn into fractured-lens flashbacks, but stays clear and bright the rest of the time, and Pietro Scalia's editing is uniformly linear and well-paced.

It's the screenplay, on the other hand, that takes the most artistic indulgences- the film has the habit of pausing every fifteen minutes for a "For Your Consideration" type speech or fight scene. But the cast manages to make each of these scenes seem like something that could occur naturally, from the scenes reminiscent of Ordinary People between Will and his therapist to the the relationship melodrama.

Good Will Hunting was apparently originally written as a thriller, with government agencies trying to tempt Will into using his intellect to serve them- this seems to have been preserved in a long speech Will makes decrying international intelligence practices when the NSA offers him a job.

A constant undercurrent of the script is the class struggle that's such an indelible part of Boston's geography- the clash between the industry surrounding the universities and the slums on the edges so well-realized in subsequent films like The Departed and Affleck's Gone Baby Gone. Affleck's character has a monologue near the end of the film basically berating Will for nearly being stupid enough to ignore his ticket out of the lower-middle-class.


After rejecting Lambeau's attempts to involve himself in the academic world and awkwardly breaking up with Skylar after she asks him to move to California with her, Will finds himself at a crossroads. After some soul-searching set to some music, we see him decide to take the NSA job.

Maguire, by now a friend through their sessions, finally breaks through in a climactic and Oscar-y scene in which they discuss Will's childhood, which was full of foster parents' abuse. Maguire tells Will "It's not your fault" more than a few times (ten, in fact), until he finally breaks into tears and gets the message.

Will drives to California, and leaves only a note parroting an earlier anecdote of Maguire's- he had to see about a girl, it says.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Good Will Hunting I think, is something of a modern classic. It's not a film a whole bunch of people openly rave about (in part because it's so remarkably earnest), but it's something nearly everyone saw and liked.

After re-watching it, I'd say higher.

The Legacy:

Well, there's the awards and stuff, and the careers therein launched, but I'd say a clearer mark of cultural influence is parody: presenting Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Lots of choices on Youtube, for once, but in a pinch I'm gonna go with the scene where Robin Williams describes how he met his wife.

The abrupt shift to "No, I didn't rush the f*cking field, I wasn't there." gets me every time. And the way the clips of the game are worked in, and the overhead shots of the chairs in the office matching the bases- that's what's Van Sant brings to the table.

Leftover Thoughts:

-I love that this film has all the Academy pleasing speeches but also lines like "Can we get off of mothers? 'Cause I got offa yours last night!" in it.

-Actual Tagline for this film: Wildly charismatic. Impossibly brilliant. Totally rebellious. For the first 20 years of his life, Will Hunting has called the shots. Now he's about to meet his match.

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