Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Good Will Hunting" (1997)

Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Robin Williams
Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck
Directed by Gus Van Sant

Movie - Good Will HuntingStrange as it may seem, this is actually the first time I've sat down to watch "Good Will Hunting," which is a movie it seems everyone else in the universe has seen but me.  But frankly, when it came out, it just wasn't the sort of thing I was into.  Even now, it's kind of not... I sort of have to force myself to watch these dramas because at heart I'm still a giant geek and I still gravitate towards things that are awesome, that maybe involve giant robots from outer space, or huge explosions... or Jason Statham.  Y'know.

But anyway...

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a young genius, working a menial job as a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) while on parole.  He pals around drinking with his friends from Southie, including best bud Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck), Billy (Cole Hauser) and Morgan (Casey Affleck).  One day, when a physics professor posts a difficult problem on a board in the hallway outside his classroom, Will solves it but doesn't sign his name.  The professor, Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), tracks down Will who has just been arrested again for assault and is facing a stint in prison.

Lambeau strikes a deal with the judge to spare Will jail time if Will will meet with Lambeau as a student as well as go to therapy.  Will agrees, but quickly goes through therapists whom he believes can't help him, and he mocks their approaches.  Finally, Lambeau goes to an old friend and classmate, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) who teaches at the far less prestigious Bunker Hill Community College.  Sean is able to get through to Will, and the two begin to form a relationship.  At the same time, Will has met Skylar (Minnie Driver) and the two strike up a romantic relationship.  Sean realizes that Lambeau may be pushing Will too hard as their doctor-patient relationship becomes more like a friendship.

Lambeau feels that Will's friends and surroundings are dragging him down, and sets up meetings for Will to get jobs that will test his intelligence, rather than the menial labor he performs currently.  Skylar reveals to Will that she will be attending med school in California, and asks him to go with her, but Will has never traveled outside of Boston and refuses.  He begins to feel that everyone is abusing and abandoning him, much like his father when he was a child.  Sean realizes what's happening and argues with Lambeau, knowing that Will's situation is precarious and could easily come right apart.

"Good Will Hunting" was a huge success, and it really deserves a lot of the praise and accolades it has received over the years.  The script is heartfelt and snappy, and the performances really bring those characters to life.  Damon's frustration over people pushing him to do things they consider "better" is palpable, as is Williams' inability to deal with his wife's death.  Affleck is probably the "worst" of the bunch, but that's like saying that this steak is a little underdone compared to the other.  This is probably one of Affleck's easiest, most natural performances.  For an actor who often comes across as bland, here he falls right into the role of dumb townie, thick Boston accent and all.

The film is directed without flair by Gus Van Sant, who is content to let the performers tell the story rather than loading it up with fancy camera moves or editing tricks.  And when your cast has such great chemistry and feels so alive, such things are just totally unnecessary.  There's a warmth to the film, however, an inviting atmosphere that helps propel the natural, loose performances along and keep the audience interested when the film seems like it might be veering.

"Good Will Hunting" went on to huge success, ultimately being parodied even years later (and even by Damon and Affleck themselves) but it's a success rightly deserved, I believe.

See Also
Gone Baby Gone
The Town