Film Review: Good Will Hunting

I wrote during my review of Finding Forrester about how it was a little known movie. How it had never really managed to extend into the mainstream, remaining shamefully hidden, seen but not hard. And what makes that apparent invisibility even more surprising is that, just a few years earlier, director Gus Van Sant had given the world Good Will Hunting. A film that united critics, audiences and Hollywood studios alike in their admiration and love.

Like most people I hold a real fondness for Good Will Hunting. It certainly doesn’t have the draw of Finding Forrester. It doesn’t connect deeply within me. But it find it engrossing. I just love how every relationship within the film is designed to bring to life a different human emotion. How the film knows exactly what it wants you to feel, how it wants to talk to you through the scenes and events it portrays and how, it ties those events, emotions and ideas together through a clever, real and simply down to earth script.

Ben Affleck & Matt Damon (Oscars) - Good Will Hunting

And it’s the script that is so impressive. Especially when you think that it was written by an obscenely young, fresh faced Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The writing is just superb. It could have been so easy to overdo it. To tangle everything together. To twist so many characters and ideas into a knotted mess that leaves you totally confused but it never happens. It’s easy to follow, and everything feels right. The tone of the characters, the language they use, the way they act all fitting for the surrounds they’re in. It doesn’t pack a real emotional knock-out blow. It’s looks potentially rich and glutinous and yet ends up light and airy. There is a real oozing centre to Good Will Hunting born out of its writing that means it never feels stodgy. You never feel like you need a degree in ‘astro-mathematical-psychics’ to understand what is going on, where it’s going or how you’re meant to feel.

However, while the story is approachable and enjoyable, and one I have watched many times over, this time I couldn’t help but feel slightly let down by it. I think that is partly down to the fact that knowing the direction of the story, knowing the way it ends and the key points in it’s journey to conclusion, it’s lost some of it’s empathy but also, because I now look at the characters through older, matured eyes, and didn’t quite like what I found.

Robin Williams & Matt Damon (Oscars) - Good Will Hunting

Firstly, all eyes fall squarely on Matt Damon, who aside from co-penning it, takes the lead role. And you can see in his eyes a real sense of arrogance. He’s totally convincing in the role. He is “Will Hunting” not Matt Damon and his obvious talent jumps out the screen. But I kept getting a sense that he knew he was good, and that he almost felt above the film. Beyond reproach. And while Robin Williams does a good job in helping to knocking him down a peg or two, never once looking out-shined, but Damon just never lets you really relax, the sense of egotism that developed around him making me feel uneasy the longer it went on and that is such a shame, because Williams performances deserves to be soaked up.

The rest of the cast though seem to blow hot and cold. Stellan Skarsgård show’s his class but always stands one step behind, never wanting to really upstage the obvious focal point of Damon and Williams and while Minnie Driver brings some necessary light comedic love to the film, her accent drove me mad. She’s English and her accent is English and yet at times it swung wildly from her usual slightly unplaceable twang to full on Victorian London. And it just confused me, distracting me from her part.

However, the least said about Ben Affleck the better though, Good Will Hunting falls squarely in the middle of his “plastic face, half smile, one emotion” era of wood that he is so often lamented with. He never manages to destroy the film, his part emotionally supportive and balancing to the full on Damon but I did slightly withdraw from it whenever he was asked to do anything serious and his closing scene is just cringe worthy. But I can forgive him, because he’s matured and given the world Argo, Gone Girl and The Town. Ugly nobbly acorns still grow into strong trees and all that.

I can’t even find much positive to say about the soundtrack. The original scores by Danny Elfman at times feeling domineering and over powering. Demanding too much attention, breaking the connection I had to the film while the injected popular music seemed to fall flat. The pieces never quite marrying up to the messages on screen. Everything just felt like it was missing a layer of refinement. It felt a bit a rushed, a secondary afterthought.

Gus Van Sant - Good Will Hunting

Worse of all though was the production tone of the piece. Ignoring the obvious natural ageing of a film released 17 years ago, it felt dated. Dated though, in an “old before it’s time” way. Returning to Finding Forrester, I said that Gus Van Sant had used the colour palette to reinforce the films ideas and enhance it’s imagery, but in this it has the opposite effect. It makes everything feel out of place and therefore, slightly irrelevant. It somehow makes the world feel unreal.

I like Good Will Hunting, after all it’s about psychology, a subject I’m fascinated by; and yet I’ve come away disappointed that the movie no longer matches my memories. It’s changed. It’s lost its soul and its uplifting messages of hope, trust and achievement that I remembered so vividly. It’s still entertaining, it still kept my attention but it no longer moved me. No longer convinced me in what it had to say.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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