April 09, 2020

‘Good Will Hunting’ ponders fostering genius> Damon outstanding as title character in heartfelt but perplexing study of mathematician-janitor

GOOD WILL HUNTING, directed by Gus Van Sant, written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Running time: 125 minutes. Rated R (for strong language and adult content). Currently playing at Hoyts Cinema, Bangor.

In a letter to The New York Times dated Aug. 13, 1945, renowned Harvard president James Conant wrote: “There is only one proved method of assisting the advancement of pure science — that of picking men of genius, backing them heavily, and leaving them to direct themselves.”

But what does one do when genius is found resting uneasily in the mind of a cocky, combative 20-year-old janitor-bricklayer who happens to be a natural mathematician, yet who finds no challenge in the science of crunching numbers?

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is that person. As brilliant as Einstein or da Vinci, he willingly chooses manual labor over a life of academe because, to him, laying bricks at a construction site or scrubbing bathroom floors at MIT is hard work, while solving the most difficult of math theorems simply isn’t.

Abused by a long line of foster parents, Will has grown into a man who exists between two separate worlds — his intellectual interior, and a reckless, rebellious exterior he shares with his three closest friends, all of whom love and protect him in ways no one else has.

Will is resistant to love, but secretly he craves it. He is aware of his genius, but he strives to keep it supressed. He knows his potential is limitless, yet he seems determined to ruin any opportunity of achieving success.

His life takes a turn when Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a world-famous MIT math professor, and Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), Lambeau’s old college roommate and now a community college professor-therapist, enter his life. In Will, Lambeau and McGuire see themselves and feel that if they can somehow reach him and put him on a better path, their lives’ mistakes won’t have been for nothing.

The complicated relationship that arises among the three is fiery, and proves to change not only Will Hunting, but also the two men who back him.

Since his starring role in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rainmaker,” Matt Damon has been heralded as Hollywood’s Next Big Thing. This film, which he co-wrote with childhood friend Ben Affleck, who also stars, confirms it. Damon’s performance is solid and affecting, and while his script may rely too heavily on plot contrivances and convenient symmetries, in the hands of a pro like Gus Van Sant, it works.

Why? Because Will Hunting emerges as a delicate shade of ourselves. In him, we see nuggets of our own desires, which we may sometimes feel are ridiculous, but also — somehow — just within our reach. Grade: B+

Video of the Week

CHASING AMY, written and directed by Kevin Smith. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated R (strong language, sexuality and drug content).

When Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) meets fellow cartoonist Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) at a comic book convention, his heart soars, which is understandable. If you can get past Alyssa’s cloying, Betty-Boop-on-helium voice, she is, upon first glance, every bit the girl-next-door. She also seems to be interested in Holden, which would be great for him if Alyssa wasn’t a card-carrying lesbian.

What makes this film so worthwhile is writer-director Kevin Smith’s sensitive script. Smith knows there is nothing funny about falling in love, and he takes Holden’s feelings seriously. Holden is in love with Alyssa’s wit, her personality, her wonderful laugh, the special way she looks at him — her whole being. He is desperate. Alyssa may like women, but she also happens to be everything Holden wants in a woman.

Can he tell her so without pushing her away? Somehow he finds the courage, and the result is the film’s best, most heartfelt moment. Grade: B

Christopher Smith, a writer and critic who lives in Brewer, reviews films each Monday in the NEWS.

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