What movie was that...?

25 February 2010

Good Will Hunting

directed by Gus Van Sant

At the risk of typecasting myself as a lover of all things indie and foreign, I have to highlight some excellent examples of indie kids making it big, scrappers like John Carpenter, who struck his Texas Tea with Halloween, or Q.T., who makes indie mainstream by virtue of his amazing talent and awesomeness. Gus Van Sant is a different breed, opting for minimal budgets and, in many cases, unknown actors to achieve his visions, be it a day in the life of various high schoolers in Elephant (riveting) or the man versus the elements struggle for survival of Gerry (mesmerizing). Then there was Paranoid Park and Last Days, but Van Sant knows how to put on a show as well. Take Milk, for example, starring a (I hate to say it, since he seems like such a jerk in real life) stellar Sean Penn and an even stellarer Josh Brolin (I heart you so much, Mr. B). Van Sant created a visceral and moving film about the power of sincere will and strength with all the gusto of a big budget biopic, minus the schmaltz. Another Van Sant classic involves a collaboration with some punks from Hollywood who fancied themselves writers. Turns out, they were right to think so. I’m talking about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (always better behind the camera than in front of it, Mr. A), who play two blue collar buddies from South Boston who exorcise their anger at an unfair world by fighting and drinking. Oh yeah, Will (Damon, in a career making performance) also likes to solve infinitely complex math problems and never admit it. When a playground brawl ends in Will possibly having to serve time, an MIT professor bails him out on one condition: that he see a therapist and that he work with him on really hard math (okay, so it was two conditions. I never said I was the math wiz, jeez!). Will finds a soul mate of sorts in Sean, played to perfection by Robin Williams, his shrink and opener of various existential windows. Whether any other actors were ever considered for Affleck’s and Damon’s respective roles, I do not know, but if so, the duo achieved a Stallone-like feat in embodying each character so fully that to imagine anyone else in those roles would seem utterly ridiculous. And hats off (I know I have mentioned this before, but I can’t help but gush) to Casey Affleck for nailing the little brother character or Morgan, and Cole Hauser, you really fleshed out the most minimal of peripheral characters. Van Sant gives the film the tragically beautiful finishing touch it needed by asking Elliot Smith to compose original songs for the film, and Smith delivered in every way. We miss you, Mr. Smith. Wish you were here. As a whole, the film is perfectly crafted, amazingly nuanced and richly detailed on every level. When you can analyze even the most minor of characters (Will’s ex-boss at MIT, the barman who knows about polio), it is a sure sign of a finely made film.

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