Movie Review: Finding Forrester
Starring: Sean Connery, Robert Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes

“It is . . . but it isn’t.” That is the answer that I give to anyone who asks me if Finding Forrester is just like Good Will Hunting. Sure, the structure is the same – boy genius, surrounded by his pals in a tough neighborhood, encounters a mentor/father figure that helps develop his raw talent. Within the developmental process, the mentor himself experiences a rejuvenation. Strengthening the argument for resemblance is the fact that both films were directed by Gus Van Sant (Psycho – 1998 and To Die For.) However, the parallels end there.

Newcomer Robert Brown plays Jamal Wallace, a standout basketball player who does just enough to get by academically at his high school. He could just as easily be a star in the academic realm, but he knows it would not grant him any status amongst his peers. So, Jamal is a reader of classic literature by night, but during the day he can be found on the courts, shooting hoops with his friends.

As sure as Jamal can be found playing basketball, “The Window” (Sean Connery), as he’s known on the street, can be seen watching. The Window is a recluse who lives in a neighboring apartment building. No one knows who he is, but his constant presence heightens the curiosity of Jamal and his buddies. One night, Jamal takes a dare to sneak into the man’s apartment and is so surprised when the old man appears that he drops his backpack in a haste to get out. The return of the backpack sparks the foundation of friendship between the two polar opposites.

About the same time the friendship develops, Jamal transfers to an elite school for the gifted after standardized test scores reveal his genius. Finally, Jamal is free to express his love of reading and writing. Who better to develop this love than the one-time writer William Forrester, the true identity of “The Window.” Forrester has long since lost touch with society, and his whereabouts are unknown to the public. The story develops as the two challenge each other to move beyond their comfort zones, discovering (and rediscovering) the joy of reading, the joy of writing, the joy of living.

What I liked about Forrester is that the film never loses touch with what brings these two together – a passion for writing. The bond is so strong that even curmudgeonly and antagonistic Professor Crawford (Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham), who doubts the validity of Jamal’s writing, cannot break it. What passes for a budding romance (with Academy Award winner Anna Paquin) also cannot touch the bond these gentlemen share.

I also liked the fact that the film pays attention to pressures of a young black male wanting to excel academically. We are shown that there are numerous points of stress for Jamal – staying in touch with his “roots” (friends), dealing with stereotypes that may exist in an elitist institution (of course, that would never happen at Harvard!), and being the beacon of hope for his family (particularly for his brother Terrell, played by Grammy-winner Busta Rhymes).

You have to love the casting here (Busta, meet Sean. Sean, meet Busta). Robert Brown’s first acting job is authentic, and although he may have a lot in common with his character, the viewer should realize that it takes more than identifying with a character to giving a good performance. It takes what I call “screen presence,” and Brown has it. Of course, so does his co-star, Sean Connery. It is amazing to me that the original James Bond is still headlining films, but here he is, some 40 years after “Dr. No,” continuing to stretch himself as an actor. Forty years! Who else in Hollywood can make that claim? He seems to be in his element here, and it is a wonderful thing to see. The supporting cast does its job, although there are no standouts here (sorry, Busta). And for those who endure the two hour and thirteen minute film, there is a nice casting surprise you will enjoy.

It’s not Good Will Hunting, but Finding Forrester isn’t trying to be. For the persistent skeptics, I invite you to consider this: two houses may be built exactly alike, with the same structure, the same color paint, and so on. But what truly defines that house is the interior. So while you might ultimately prefer to live in the “Hunting” house, you should still drop in and pay a visit to Forrester. Chances are, you won’t regret it.