Skip to main content

Empire List #433: Good Will Hunting


Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting” is a very effective dramatic film that could appear in one of those “Before they were Famous” specials. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who were both supporting actors at the time, wrote the screenplay. Their words and individual performances earned them both Oscar nominations in 1997 before they went on to become major movie stars. Casey Affleck, brother of Ben, has a supporting role, and he also would eventually move on to bigger things.

I remember seeing the Oscars in 1997 and knowing this movie was a big deal, but I never got time to see it. I was probably too busy adjusting to living Chile, having recently moved from Newfoundland. About ten years later I finally rented it and watched it in my off-campus room near the University of Sherbrooke. I was studying English, not math, so I couldn’t really indentify with a main character who is a closeted math genius. Yet on some level, I think there is something for everyone in this story.

Matt Damon plays the titular Will Hunting, a young man living in Boston working a blue-collar job like his many loyal friends. He spends his days cleaning up at Harvard University, the Mount Everest of American education. One day as he is cleaning the floor in a classroom, he notices a mathematical equation on the board. With seemingly no difficulty he solves it, indicating he could do more than clean up on campus.

The following day Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgärd) is pleasantly surprised to see someone has solved the problem on his board as he had left as a challenge to his students. He is further surprised when no one rises up to claim the credit. One night he catches Will solving yet another equation, but Will runs off as though shamed by his intelligence. Desperate to nurture this diamond in the rough, Lambeau bails out Will when he get into a fight with a police officer, on the condition that he becomes his student and he seeks counselling.

A funny montage shows Will mocking whatever councillor comes his way. It turns out he is not only good with numbers; he can also throw people off. As a last resource, Lambeau reaches out to his old colleague Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) with whom he has a tenuous history. Over time Sean does manage to break through with Will since he see through his defences.

Most importantly, they share about the one thing all men can talk about: women. Will has begun a relationship with Skylar (Minnie Driver) a student about to graduate from Harvard with plans to further her education in California. Shamed of the poor neighbourhood where he grew up, Will is hesitant to let her into his life. Having lost his wife, Sean encourages him not too waste any time.

Despite his gift, Will is like all young men his age. He is at a crossroads and hesitates where to go next. Lambeau has many connections that could lead to high paying jobs but Will feels so much loyalty to his childhood friends that he wishes to stay in Boston and work with them as a labourer. Even his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) believes that would be the wrong move. If any of Will’s friends had his gift with numbers, most of them would probably never hesitate to leave.

Those honest scenes are what earned this movie the Academy Award for best original screenplay. What earned Robin Williams his Oscar for best supporting actor are the therapy scenes between Sean and Will. One of my favourites was Sean’s re-telling of a historic Baseball game involving his future wife. I am not a baseball fan, but you could feel it was a one heck of a game.

This movie is about finding your place in life and choosing what is most important to you as you embark on your journey. I am no math genius nor do I have Will’s emotional baggage, but having recently been through college and university, I know what it’s like to hesitate where to go next in life. We all have to make heavy choices some day. Seeing this movie is a very good choice for the writing, superb acting and directing.  


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…