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Good Will Hunting
USA 1997
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Running time 126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Writers and stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for this story about an intellectually-gifted young Bostonian (Damon) with a big chip on his shoulder.

Damon plays Will Hunting, a working class guy from South Boston who happens to be a super-brain with a photographic memory. Orphaned and abused as a child he’s got a substantial criminal record and general contempt for straight society, preferring to hang out with Chuckie (Ben Affleck) and his dead-end mates rather than doing anything constructive with his talents. While working as a janitor at MIT his mathematical brilliance comes to the attention of Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) who, after Will gets busted for hitting a oolice officer, takes him under his wing on the condition that he attends counselling sessions with Sean McGuire (Robin Williams). Co-incidentally Will’s gifts are also recognized by a wealthy Harvard co-ed (Minnie Driver).

Good Will Hunting exploits a typology of characters and situations that are skilfully honed shaped into a standard narrative trajectory and that, combined with the name cast means that the film never feels even remotely connected to the real world that Will so fervently swears allegiance to. In other words it is pure Hollywood contrivance with director Van Sant, hitherto known for edgier material, obliging with mainstream conventionality. Taken as such, however, the characters are well rounded  Damon’s performance as the defensive young man impressive and Affleck charming as his lifelong friend. Robin Williams who won Best Supporting Oscar, gives a mercifully restrained performance in the type of stock empathetic eccentric role for which he is known and Minnie Driver is winning as the posh girlfriend although she is too old for the part (she was 27 at the time).

In some ways, given the improbability of its premise, it is surprising that the film works at all. That it does and that there are even flashes verbal brilliance here is a credit to Damon and Affleck.

 

 

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